5 Questions with Leah Sera, PharmD, MA, BCPS, Program Director, MS in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics (MCST), Associate Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome 5 Questions with Leah Sera, PharmD, MA, BCPS, Program Director, MS in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics (MCST), Associate Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

Leah Sera, PharmD, MA, BCPS, is the Program Director, MS in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics (MCST), and an Associate Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. She is currently an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science. Her clinical specialties are pain management and palliative care.

1. Please introduce yourself to our audience with a look back at your education, training, and career.

I went to pharmacy school in 2006 after completing my pre-requisite coursework at Montgomery College, a community college in Rockville, MD. After earning my Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2010, I completed two years of post-graduate residency training, including a year of specialized training in pain management and palliative care. Palliative care is the care of patients with complex or advanced diseases and is my passion – it’s a very holistic way of caring for people and has informed my clinical practice and career. I was first introduced to the idea of cannabis as medicine during my residency training.

I have also always had a love of educating and knew early on in my pharmacy career that I would make teaching my focus. I joined the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in 2012 as an Assistant Professor. It was the only job I applied to out of residency because it was the only place I could see myself working – I definitely put all my eggs in one basket, so I’m glad it worked out! I went back to school to earn my Master of Arts in Instructional Systems Development in 2017.

When I heard at a staff meeting at the end of 2017 that our school was going to create a Master of Science program in medical cannabis, I was so excited; I immediately asked my department chair to put in a good word for me with the Dean so I could be involved and maybe teach a class or two. After meeting with the Dean and sharing some of my ideas, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to lead the development and implementation of this program. It’s been the most interesting and challenging opportunity of my career so far!

2. The MS in Medical Cannabis Science & Therapeutics Program is a first of its kind in the US. How was the program created, and what have you learned from your first few years?

The proposal that was initially developed in 2018 went through a review and approval process with both the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and the Maryland Higher Education Commission. We also had our curriculum reviewed by the Maryland Office of the Attorney General to ensure that we were compliant with federal and state laws.  

In developing the program, the most important thing we took into consideration was that we knew we wanted to attract a diverse cohort of students. The medical cannabis industry comprises individuals with many different academic and professional backgrounds. Our goal was to create a program that would provide all these individuals with a solid foundation of knowledge to bring it back to their role in the field.

To do that, we had to create a curriculum that was both accessible to those without a science or clinical background but still exciting and challenging to those with that background. I think that for the most part, we accomplished that, but of course, as any educator will tell you, there are always improvements that can be made. Not only that, but this field is evolving so quickly that we know our curriculum will also need to evolve to stay relevant.

3. How do you see Medical Cannabis Science & Therapeutics relating to the larger biohealth industry?

Improving patient care has always been at the center of every academic program in the School of Pharmacy, and the MCST Program is no different. Our ultimate goal is to optimize patient care by educating our students about cannabis medicine – what we know about its pharmacology, clinical uses, and the policies that exist to regulate it.

We also teach a lot of the foundational knowledge needed to understand cannabis medicine – pharmacology, medicinal chemistry, pharmaceutics, evidence-based medicine, patient care, and research methodology – so our graduates can continue to apply these concepts to emerging information about medical cannabis – and can contribute to the development of new knowledge through research, practice, and advocacy.

4. What would you like people to know about this program and the School of Pharmacy?

First, we’re very proud of our students for being trailblazers in a relatively new academic area. I truly appreciate the trust that our students have placed in us to provide quality education. Graduating our first class this past May was such a proud moment for me! I can’t wait to see all the ways in which our graduates push this field forward.

Second, that our admissions cycle for Fall 2022 will open on July 31, 2021. As I said before, our goal is to admit a diverse cohort of students reflective of the myriad roles in the medical cannabis industry. Our admissions committee reviews each applicant and makes decisions based on their personal statement and goals, letters of recommendation, and academic and professional experience. Potential applicants can learn more about our program, curriculum, and application procedures on our website: https://www.pharmacy.umaryland.edu/academics/ms-medical-cannabis-science-and-therapeutics/

5. Travel is opening up again, but many people still aren’t flying for vacations. Where is one place you’ve never been but would love to visit after the pandemic? Why?

There are many places I would love to visit in the United States and in the world. At the top of my list is a trip to Japan. My brother has lived in Japan for many years, and I haven’t yet been able to make the trip to pay him a visit! I hope that when we are able to travel easily again, I can take my husband and our four boys to visit him and tour the country.

Thank you to Leah Sera, PharmD, MA, BCPS, Program Director, MS in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics (MCST), Associate Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy for participating in the ‘5 Questions with BioBuzz’ series, and stay tuned for more interviews with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region and beyond.