Thursday, May 27, 2021

UI College of Pharmacy faculty member Erika Ernst leads efforts to beat back infectious diseases. Along the way, she does allow one catching element to reach her students: her enthusiasm.

So-called “superbugs”—also known as drug-resistant bacteria—are a moving target, and they are Ernst’s specialty. She studies how best to treat them, including with different formulations of antibiotics, to fight them or slow them down.

Erika Ernst
Erika Ernst

As Ernst—PharmD, an associate professor—wages battle against superbugs, she passes along her passion, strategies, and high standards to learners.

Her teaching successes have earned her the 2021 College of Pharmacy Award for Teaching Excellence: a peer-reviewed nomination process for recognizing outstanding faculty. Her nominator was Jay Currie, the chair of her department in the college, and a clinical professor. Ernst received letters of recommendation from fellow faculty members, and current and former students. She works with PharmD and pharmacy graduate students, as well as supervising and mentoring other post-doctoral learners and interprofessional health care students.

All second-year Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) students are required to take her Integrated Pharmacotherapy: Infectious Diseases course. “I have heard students comment that although the course is rigorous and the expectations high, Dr. Ernst is deeply committed to supporting student success, providing both in-class and outside time to students,” wrote Mary Schroeder, an associate professor.

“I often see students gathered in her office, deep in conversation.”

Michelle Fravel—a clinical associate professor and clinical pharmacy specialist—noted that the subject itself “easily overwhelms students”, but that Ernst is “committed to striking the balance between exposing students to the breadth of new information available with narrowing the focus enough so that students can master the basics … while eliminating penalty during the learning process”.

She takes her “huge” teaching responsibility “very seriously and is incredibly thoughtful in her approach,” Fravel added.

One former student, Page Crew, '14 PharmD, '13 MPH, places Ernst among “an exceptional few who truly influenced my career success. … Her mentorship [during rotations] was instrumental in solidifying my interest in infectious diseases and my curiosity for lifelong learning.” Crew explained that her current role with the National Institutes of Health involves implementing clinical trials related to pandemics in the international setting. She said Ernst taught her teamwork and leadership skills.

Crew added: “In addition to Dr. Ernst’s contribution to my success, she has contributed immensely to the field of infectious diseases through scholarly activity and by encouraging countless other students to follow their dreams in studying infectious diseases.”

Melissa Matcha recently graduated with a PharmD and is starting her first choice post graduate year 1 residency (PGY1) at the University of Illinois Chicago. She has plans to pursue a PGY2 in infectious diseases. Matcha said Ernst inspired her and encourages her students to “ask the difficult why questions”, stay current on related news, and she shares stories that were “empowering as a woman in the healthcare field.”

When the course ended, Ernst met with her weekly, and ended up collaborating on a research project that they presented at a conference last year.

Dr. Ernst’s influence has been critical to my development not only as a female pharmacist, but also as a person. She taught me to appreciate the science around me and to share what I know with the world.

Currie noted that student evaluations of Ernst’s teaching are “very high” and offer “praise for her teaching”, even though it is only one of her many roles.

“She has [also] conducted research, presented and published on teaching and learning in relation to infectious disease practice management,” he said.

Ernst is also the faculty advisor for the University of Iowa student chapter of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy (AACP), a faculty mentor for PharmD students, supports student research, and has provided formal and informal service to the university. She has twice been elected Class Teacher of the Year by students and is the 2015 recipient of the College’s Faculty Preceptor Excellence Award.