Meet the Expert: Jacqui McLaughlin

Dr. McLaughlin is helping lead innovation in pharmacy education at the School and beyond

Story by Zach Read | Published May 16, 2023

Headshot of Jacqui McLaughlin

In 2012, Jacqui McLaughlin arrived at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy as a postdoctoral fellow with the Office of Strategic Planning and Assessment. She had recently completed her doctorate in educational research and policy analysis and was excited to support the development and evaluation of active teaching models to help pharmacy faculty optimize student learning.

Jacqui’s arrival at UNC could not have been timed more perfectly. Faculty at the School, as well as in health professions education more generally, had begun applying new methods of teaching to engage their students and train them for their future careers, and the Eshelman School of Pharmacy was embarking on a curriculum transformation.

“In that first year as a postdoc at UNC, I was able to work with School of Pharmacy faculty who were trying new things in their classroom or creating new models of experiential education as a way of determining how to optimize our educational enterprise for the training of student pharmacists,” Jacqui recalls. “Dean [Bob] Blouin and school leadership recognized that period as an opportunity to advance new models and innovations in education through the curriculum design process.”

During that time, Jacqui applied—and was hired—for a position in educational innovation and research. Today she serves as Director of the Center for Innovation in Pharmacy Education Research (CIPhER). CIPhER’s mission is “to influence and transform health professions and graduate education and scholarship locally, nationally, and globally.” The center has two core aims: the first is educator development, helping educators be more effective and efficient as they train pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists; the second is education research.

“We’ve published over 100 papers across different topics in education and the health professions,” Jacqui says. “Not only are we trying to help our educators improve teaching in their classrooms or labs or experiential sites, but we’re also helping them answer really tough questions. We pride ourselves on not just knowing what the literature says about how to be effective educators, but also in helping people innovate and test and evaluate different strategies to determine how we can position our students for success.”

What future success looks like for a student today is different from when Jacqui arrived at UNC more than a decade ago, and helping them achieve success requires a different approach.

“Students have more ideas about ways they can make themselves unique and marketable and differentiated than ever before,” explains Jacqui. “As an educational enterprise, I think schools have to be prepared to help students do that. I don’t think traditional models where we graduate everyone with the same skills, the same career goals, the same ideas is going to work anymore.”

Although Jacqui has never trained to be a pharmacist, her research and life experiences have prepared her to help advance pharmacy teaching models not only at UNC, but in the broader health professions. Her passion for higher education—and making it work better—has been fueled by her upbringing in Blacksburg, Virginia, which included being raised by parents who were faculty members at Virginia Tech and Radford University.

In her current role, she also finds herself frequently drawing on her experiences as a competitive swimmer. Jacqui went on to coach the NC State University men’s and women’s swimming & diving teams while completing her doctorate.

“Coaching and college sports is so collaborative,” Jacqui says.  “I learned the importance of collaboration and different ways to lead, and I brought that with me into my faculty role.”

Jacqui sees lots of parallels between coaching and being an educator.

“In coaching we’re constantly looking for ways to help our athletes be better, to perform at a higher level,” she shares. “Coming into a faculty role, specifically one where I have the opportunity to support other people, I am constantly thinking about how we can we get better, how we can identify ways to be more effective, more efficient, more engaging. That idea of improvement and constantly seeking out ways to be excellent is something I have carried with me in my career.”

Jacqui’s commitments to improvement and excellence are benefiting the School through her work with CIPhER, which now provides educator development for pharmacy faculty from institutions around the world.

“We’re seeing increasing demand and requests for help from faculty outside our school who want to learn the types of things we’re doing and who respect and value the expertise CIPhER has,” Jacqui says. “People realize that what we’re doing here is special. They want to be a part of that and they want to learn with us.”