Working to help patients with Type 2 diabetes receive the safest and most effective medication

A passion for writing code, detecting patterns and solving puzzles helps Scot Simpson answer critical questions in medication management for diabetes patients.

10 November 2022

Scot Simpson is a professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Alberta. He received his Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy (BSP) from the University of Saskatchewan and completed a hospital residency at the Regina General Hospital. He then worked as a hospital pharmacist in Yorkton, Saskatchewan for a few years before returning to school to complete a PharmD (University of Toronto) and MSc (University of Alberta).

Simpson joined the faculty in 2004 and teaches in the areas of evidence-based medicine and diabetes management. His research focuses on Type 2 diabetes — understanding the effects of medications used to treat it and the role of pharmacist intervention in its management. He is currently accepting new graduate students.

What is the focus of your research?
I have two major areas of research. The first looks at how drugs work to either provide benefit or create harm using population-based information. The second looks at how pharmacists can help patients manage chronic diseases such as diabetes.

What sort of impact do you hope your research will make? What problems will it solve?
We have a lot of different medications approved for use in Canada. Within the area of diabetes management, I hope that my research will help clinicians and patients identify which of these medications are the safest and most effective.

What led you to this area of study?
Early in my career I was working in an outpatient clinic where we used evidence from large studies to make drug therapy recommendations to help people with heart failure. One evening I was at a movie and saw one of our patients with a large bag of popcorn and realized just how important it was that the patient be involved in the decisions about their management. Ever since that encounter, I have been very interested in learning how patient decisions to take medications (described as medication adherence) can affect their health outcomes.

People with diabetes often need to take many medications to manage blood glucose, blood pressure and other conditions. So it was a natural fit to examine medication use and outcomes in this area.

I like writing programming code for statistical software such as Stata and using large datasets to look for patterns and solve puzzles. This really helps to answer clinical questions such as, "If I stick with this medication, will it lower my risk of diabetes-related complications?"

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Teaching students how to look for the answers to their research questions and sharing in the excitement of discovery.

What do you find the most challenging?
Obtaining funding to support the research.

What is something your colleagues would be surprised to learn about you?
I am an avid bike mechanic. My commuter bike is the same one I used to ride around the north island of New Zealand shortly after finishing my hospital residency.

What's the No. 1 piece of advice you give your grad students?
A variation of Wayne Gretzky's advice: You have a 100 per cent chance of not getting the grant if you don't apply.

If you hadn't become a researcher, what do you think you'd be doing instead?
Opening a mobile bike-repair shop on a beach somewhere warm.