Commencement 2020: Pharmacy graduate thinks big in research, pharmacy service

“I think this idea of thinking big is truly ingrained in every aspect of the pharmacy program.”

Living up to the University of Rhode Island’s “Think Big. We Do” motto, Emily Murray, part of the newest class of graduates from the URI College of Pharmacy, has proven she is capable of thinking big herself by leaving a lasting impact on the URI community.

Murray’s achievements during her six-year college career include, participating in a mission trip to Jamaica, serving as a Resident Academic Mentor and succeeding in creating a thoughtful project as part of the Honors Program. She is also the recipient of several academic awards, including the prestigious College of Pharmacy Service Award.

Murray, originally from North Reading, Mass., was attracted to URI’s doctor of pharmacy program not just for the quality of education she knew she would receive, but also for the dynamic research projects that make a significant impact well beyond the Kingston campus. “Just a few floors above the general classrooms in the pharmacy building, there are laboratories run by faculty conducting such innovative and progressive research,” she said.

One of Murray’s favorite experiences of her college career was completing her Honors project, for which she contributed Native American medicinal plants to the medicinal garden outside Avedisian Hall, home of the College. Her goal was to utilize Rhode Island’s unique Native American culture via the Narragansett Tribe and make it an educational tool for both the college and the community.

“I think that, for me, it was about doing something that I’m not necessarily well-versed in because I didn’t know much about Native American culture before,” Murray said.

Murray conducted a lot of research to make her project meaningful. She sought out medicinal treatments that had a balance of “bio-psycho-socio-spiritual” elements. The resources she utilized included Loren Spears and her staff at the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, R.I.; Kettle Pond of the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge in Charlestown, R.I.; and literature resources to cross-reference native plants and Native American practices.

“The research and list of options was quite extensive,” Murray said. “But the plants that I chose to highlight in this project were often used for multiple purposes.”

Some of those plants included tobacco, sweetgrass, white sage and cedar, the four staple plants used in Native American ceremonies. The burning of tobacco, for example, honored and welcomed guests, blessed both food crops and an upcoming hunt, and bound agreements between tribes to ensure the general welfare of the community.

Tobacco was also used by tribes as a medicine to help heal body aches, bites and stings, abscesses, sore throat, and urinary tract inflammation. It was often administered as an infusion, mixed with leaves, or simply chewed.

Murray also contributed blue vervain, white snakeroot, skullcap and sunflowers, all of which have their own medicinal benefits.

“Using Rhode Island-specific plants was also important to me,” Murray said. “There are tribes all across the nation, obviously, but I wanted to provide some education into what we might be exposed to every day and we don’t necessarily realize it.”

Murray also made an impact in a very different type of community when she traveled to Jamaica. She was one of more than 20 students from across the Colleges of Pharmacy, Nursing and Health Sciences who joined three faculty members in working with disabled residents affiliated with Mustard Seed, an organization in Jamaica that serves children and adults with disabilities who have been abandoned. The students lived among the patients in residential communities, working with them on managing their medications, caring for the symptoms of their conditions, and providing physical therapy for conditions such as cerebral palsy. They also conducted workshops for caregivers at the facility on such topics as medication administration, first aid, self-care, over-the-counter medications and proper use of medical equipment.

Murray stressed the importance of the trip by detailing that many of the communities they went to did not have a lot of resources to help those in need. Many patients had been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy or Down’s Syndrome, and many were wheelchair-bound, or non-communicative.

“It was an opportunity bigger than myself and really challenged by capabilities,” Murray said. “I was able to accomplish so much more than I thought I would ever be able to there.”

Murray seemingly made an impact on every aspect of her college life. She was a RAM in Hillside Hall for four years. “My goal was really just to collaborate with faculty and try to foster an inclusive environment for a residential community that was conducive to both academic and social success for all the pharmacy students coming in,” she said.

Murray represented URI and the College of Pharmacy in many different ways. She served as a College of Pharmacy student representative on campus, and also participated in the Pepto Bowl, a Jeopardy-style competition amongst other New England pharmacy students that tested students on their over-the-counter recommendation skills.

The next step for Murray is to become a pharmacist at a top-ranked hospital and medical clinic in Massachusetts. She said the education and experience she has received at URI has prepared her well for her career.

“I love URI,” Murray remarked after learning of being the recipient of the Pharmacy Service Award. “I think that they have given me so much in terms of where I am today and how I’ve been able to progress as both a student and an individual.”