Maria Latta ’20 (Pharm.D. Candidate 2022) has taken advantage of the research opportunities at UConn to work toward making the pharmacy system more accessible and helpful to patients.
Many of Latta’s family members have dealt with the healthcare system and growing up Latta saw some of the pitfalls of that system. Latta’s mother’s side of the family is from Taiwan. Not being native English speakers meant Latta’s relatives encountered significant barriers to accessing the healthcare system effectively.
These early experiences helped lead Latta to her current career track in pharmacy.
“There are so many aspects to health care,” Latta says. “Pharmacy was a good fit for me because it involves so much communication with patients.”
As an undergraduate, Latta took a required research course for her sociology minor. In this class, she developed a passion for research that would extend well beyond the classroom. Latta did an Honors conversion for this course and completed a hands-on research project analyzing perceptions of overworking through social media.
“That’s when I realized the social lens of research was really interesting to me,” Latta says.
In 2017, Latta participated in the Co-op Legacy Fellowship Program. Her research project focused on how social and cultural factors influence traditional Chinese medicine use.
In the summer of 2019, Latta completed a SURF Award project. This research focused on infrastructure and program management for a Connecticut-specific public health initiative through which pharmacists offer telehealth consultations to underserved women.
Now, as a University Scholar, Latta is working on a larger research project focusing on opioid prescription education. Currently, opioids, like all prescription drugs, come with a long, technical sheet filled with information about how to take the drug, side effects, and safety information. This is an incredibly ineffective way to ensure people understand the risks of opioid use, which can be highly addictive.
Latta’s project is incorporating entrepreneurship and technology to create a more targeted and accessible approach to opioid prescription education.
“It’s really meant to pull out some of the most important safety facts for this medication,” Latta says.
The website or app Latta is creating will prompt users to complete a baseline knowledge test. This will allow the technology to provide them with tailored safety information. The system will also be translated into other languages for increased accessibility.
The insight and mentorship of other departments would not have come for me without pursuing these projects. — Maria Latta
Latta is working with an interdisciplinary team of mentors including professor of pharmacy practice Nathaniel Rickles, Tiffany Kelley in the School of Nursing, and director of the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation David Noble.
“I’m interested in doing interdisciplinary work and the support I’ve had from different faculty and different disciplines has allowed me to do this,” Latta says. “The insight and mentorship of other departments would not have come for me without pursuing these projects.”
Latta says her experiences working on independent projects as an undergraduate researcher pushed her to find topics which she is passionate about.
Latta is interested in working on the administrative and leadership side of pharmacy after completing her Pharm.D. degree in order to continue the work she has started at UConn.
“It’s a good opportunity to apply skills of research in a more real-world setting,” Latta says.
Latta advises other students interested in doing research to proactively reach out to professors about opportunities.
“My number one advice is to be brave,” Latta says. “Reach out to faculty members. It seems scary, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised again and again with how willing people are to talk to and support me.”
Students interested in learning more about research and innovation opportunities at UConn can check out the series of events offered as part of the Month of Discovery. Come to the Fall Frontiers Undergraduate Research Exhibition on Oct. 20, 2021, to get inspired by the research and creative projects pursued by students from across the University.