P.J. Randhawa smiles at the camera while standing in front of two trees and a building.

News & Features

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

In the midst of growing profit in the pharmaceutical industry and growth in the number of medical prescription errors in recent years, television reporter PJ Randhawa decided to take a closer look at the reason why. Randhawa’s report, published in April 2018, found stressed-out pharmacists who were facing pressure to fill prescriptions quickly or risk losing their jobs. The result: Many patients were receiving wrong—sometimes life-threatening—medications.

For her investigative work, the Northeastern Illinois University alumna earned a Health and Science Mid-America Emmy Award during a ceremony on Sept. 22 in Kansas City, Mo.

“Basically, we took a look at complaints within the pharmacy industry from pharmacists who say they’re being pressured to fill more prescriptions per hour,” said Randhawa (B.A. ’08 Communication, Media and Theatre), who works for KSDK, an NBC affiliate in St. Louis. “They’re being timed. They’re being told, ‘If you can’t fill more prescriptions, we’ll replace you with someone younger.’ The benefit to really knowing that and exposing that was really for the consumer because in the end there have been a lot of cases where people have gotten the wrong prescriptions.”

The story cited the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Adverse Event Reporting System, which shows that medication errors have increased by 460 percent since 2010. It also revealed that currently no state pharmacy board requires prescription mistakes to be reported.

Randhawa’s success comes as no surprise to her Northeastern mentors.

“Not only did PJ love learning, but she also was incredibly kind,” said TESOL Professor Jeanine Ntihirageza, who has kept in touch with her former student over the years. “At the beginning, when we met, she was quite shy, but then she quickly became a star inside and outside the classroom due to her hard work and kindness. She was a role model for many of the students.”

Randhawa arrived at Northeastern as an international student, hailing from Canada. Her sister was living in Chicago, so Randhawa looked at schools in the area.

“Northeastern was a smaller school compared with some of the other options we looked at,” Randhawa said. “Coming from Canada to big-city Chicago, that was a comfort. It was more of a community. It was very diverse, which we really appreciated. Those were some major factors in deciding on NEIU.”

After graduating from Northeastern, Randhawa earned a master’s degree in journalism from DePaul University. She previously worked at news stations in South Dakota and South Carolina before arriving in St. Louis.

Randhawa said she is humbled to have won an Emmy—she had been nominated four times prior to this year’s win—and she dedicated the award to her late parents. Her achievement makes Randhawa the first Sikh-Canadian broadcast journalist to win an Emmy.

“It is absolutely no surprise that PJ has won this award and has been nominated multiple times previously,” Communication, Media and Theatre Professor Cyndi Moran said. “P.J. was a dream student, but always in a quiet, non-self-aggrandizing way. She took the most of every opportunity to learn and advance her academic and career prospects at NEIU, by not only taking every available journalism and media-related class, but by doing additional research and work in some courses to earn honors credit as part of her participation in NEIU's Honors Program.”

Throughout her journey, Randhawa has been thankful for the mentorship she received at Northeastern and hopes students can find educators to support them as she had.

“Seek out mentors,” Randhawa advised current students. “Stay after class. If you have an interest that isn’t being talked about or you’re curious about something, find a professor you like who is approachable and try to talk to them and get encouragement and advice because in the real world, there’s not many people I can go to for encouragement or advice. You get that at NEIU. There are people who want to help you and who will take the time to listen to you. Show your passion and someone will pick up on it. NEIU definitely set me up for success.”