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Representation Matters: Improving Diversity in Pharmacy

Ann Anaya and Dean Kathleen Kennedy discuss the importance of diversity in pharmacy and why it matters that patients are treated by someone who looks like them. Plus, Good Neighbor Pharmacy launches a scholarship program to help address these needs.

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Ann Anaya: My name is Ann Anaya. I'm the chief diversity equity and inclusion officer. Let's just say that the reason I came to AmerisourceBergen was because I was so aligned with and touched by the organization’s purpose of creating healthier futures for all. When we think about how we're so well positioned to address health equity to contribute to increasing access to health care, that's a wonderful purpose. It's a wonderful reason each and every day to come to AmerisourceBergen and serve as chief diversity equity and inclusion officer.

Kathleen Kennedy: My name is Kathleen Kennedy. I am the Dean of the College of Pharmacy at Xavier University of Louisiana here in New Orleans. Our mission is to produce health care practitioners who are outstanding leaders in their communities to make an impact on eliminating health disparities and moving us closer to health equity by providing patient-centered care, community engagement, and scholarly work.

Drug Topics®: How does AmerisourceBergen’s broader DEI commitment influence Good Neighbor Pharmacy’s support across the business and practice of pharmacy?

Anaya: When we think about equity, we think about community and our impact on health equity. Our purpose is to create healthier futures and I want to add “for all.” We think about how we're uniquely situated and positioned to make a difference for health equity. We look at the disparities in health care services and access to health care. We want to advance health equity, increase access. To do that, what we can do is we can diversify the pharmacists, the independent pharmacists, so representation. African Americans represent only 5% of US pharmacists. What we want to do is we want to increase that number. We want to increase the number of all underrepresented groups in pharmacy.

Drug Topics®: How would you describe the current state of diversity and representation in the pharmacy profession?

Kennedy: Well, we have made some progress here recently, but there's still quite a bit of work to do. Actually, less than 22% of licensed pharmacists in the country are considered nonwhite. In the colleges of pharmacy, we have 141 colleges of pharmacy, only 9% of the students enrolled are Black or African American. When you think about the population in the country, which includes about 13% Blacks, we really need to increase our workforce diversity because it's suggested that the diversity in the workforce should mirror that in the country.

Drug Topics®: Why is it important to support DEI initiatives both in pharmacy practice and in the business of pharmacy?

Anaya: Sure, pharmacists are uniquely positioned for increasing access to health care. Certainly, inclusion is so important, including underrepresented, underserved communities in pharmacy care. When you are inside of a community and have that close touch, you can build relationships of trust. When people need health care services, sometimes they're at their most vulnerable. So having a relationship of trust is so important. Having an emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and of course, health equity, is the way we are going to address those disparities in health care.

Drug Topics®: Why is it critical to support and invest in pharmacy education and career opportunities for Black professionals?

Kennedy: A lot of times, you'll hear health care providers say that patients want someone who looks like them taking care of them. Actually, some studies have shown that there's increased communication and some increased health outcomes when you have a better race concordance. We also know that in the United States, especially brought out with the pandemic, that there are still significant health care disparities that need to be addressed. I think with pharmacists being in the communities, they are perfectly positioned to make an impact on eliminating these disparities by providing patient-centered care in their communities.

Drug Topics®: What does it mean to provide patient-centered and culturally competent care and why is it so important?

Kennedy: When you think about patient-centered care, the needs of the patient, as well as their desired health outcomes, are really the center of every decision that is made about their health care. It also means that you’re treating them not only from a clinical perspective, but also considering their emotional, mental, financial, and social health when you're talking about treatment. All of that is taken into consideration for patient-centered care. Then cultural competency really means that the provider has some knowledge and awareness of the cultural beliefs and values of the patient. [Meaning] those things are considered when they're designing their treatment plans. I think that's very important when you expect to improve health outcomes.

Drug Topics®: Why should culturally competent care be the standard of care for pharmacy?

Anaya: You want to feel as if you're seen and heard, when you're seeking health care, as if you're somehow understood. Again, coming back to this idea of building trust, we saw during the pandemic and the hesitancy for vaccines, that's all about building trust. When you have that cultural competence, when you have that close relationship, you can really talk about what the hesitancy is and what culture aspects are getting in the way of providing care.

Drug Topics®: How would increasing the number of Black and minority-owned pharmacies benefit medically underserved communities across the country?

Kennedy: In medically underserved communities, there's a lack of a lot of different things and one happens to be pharmacies that are present. Sometimes it's considered a pharmacy desert. We hear all the time that there are pharmacies on corners all over, but not necessarily in the underserved communities. I know for a fact in New Orleans, especially with Hurricane Katrina, a lot of the independent pharmacies that served in these underserved communities were destroyed. It really is important for us to encourage our students to start their own pharmacy in these areas where there's a need, and where the lack of those pharmacies leaves patients in need of care. I believe that having more emphasis on independent pharmacy ownership in those communities would provide better care for the patients.

Drug Topics®: Are pharmacy schools having these conversations about DEI?

Anaya: I think healthcare generally is becoming more and more focused in on the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We're talking about its impact and influence on health equity. But it's also true that health care generally needs to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The idea of a patient and a doctor’s relationship includes an appreciation for the importance of diverse perspectives, backgrounds, experiences, and it takes all that into account when providing care.

Drug Topics®: Any final thoughts?

Kennedy: I am so excited about this opportunity to talk about the need for diversity in the workforce and the need to provide pharmacists who are going to be working in these communities, which are disproportionately affected by different diseases. These communities lack the care. They lack the resources without the pharmacies, without the pharmacist. I guess the takeaway message is there's a need to increase the number of pharmacists who are practicing in these areas. We need to increase the care that's provided, and pharmacists are perfectly positioned to do that.

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Good Neighbor Pharmacy just launched a new scholarship program in partnership with the AmerisourceBergen Foundation. The scholarship will support aspiring pharmacists who identify as Black or African American who are pursuing or plan to pursue a Pharmacy Doctorate Degree at an HBCU or other accredited college/university.‘

The formal application process will launch this winter, and the first scholarship will be awarded for the 2023 – 2024 school year. For more information, click here.


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