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College of Pharmacy Focuses on Diversity and Cultural Competency

2008 Pharmacy Summer Camp participants


Nancy Dockter

Diversity Process Coordinator
Center for Diversity Affairs

For several years, the College of Pharmacy (COP) has been taking action on several fronts to ultimately improve the racial and ethnic diversity and cultural competency of the state’s pharmacy workforce. Strategies include new course content, summer enrichment programs targeting under-represented minority (URM) students, and faculty development focusing on health disparities and cultural competency, as well as events to benefit the whole campus.

In November, the COP hosted a two-day visit by Dr. Margarita Echeverri, assistant professor and educational coordinator in Health Disparities, Cultural Competence and Diversity in the Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education, Xavier University College of Pharmacy in New Orleans. The purpose of her visit was to assist the COP in its efforts to increase student and faculty awareness of the importance of cultural competency in pharmacy practice, as well as to advise the college’s Cultural Competency Ad Hoc Work Group on further integration of cultural competency into the COP curriculum.

Among Echeverri’s recommended next steps were to meet individually with faculty to determine where cultural competency is currently being taught and could be expanded upon and to conduct a systematic review of the curriculum using the Tool for Assessing Cultural Competence Training (TACCT), which was developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges. The ultimate objective is to integrate cultural competency throughout both the didactic and experiential curriculum at the COP.

Members of work group had first heard Echeverri present at the 2011 summer institute of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, which had cultural competency as its theme.

“The take-home message was focus on the faculty first,” said Renee DeHart, COP associate dean for student affairs. “Some of what we have been doing in the past year has been getting the faculty more aware so in turn they can impact the students.” 

In that vein, two of the last books read by the COP faculty book club, led by Dean Stephanie Gardner, have been about the intersection of medicine and culture: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Culture by Anne Fadiman.

As a result of a curriculum change two years ago, COP students now are introduced to health disparities and cultural competency in the fall freshman Career Orientation and Communications course. For the past two years, Kate Stewart, College of Public Health faculty member, has presented on the social determinants of health, health and health care disparities, and the importance of a diverse health care workforce. Learning has been furthered by case-based small-group discussion and exercises such as the Harvard Implicit Association Test.

“The intent of these sessions is to have new students thinking early in their training about what knowledge and skills they need to obtain to serve the diverse populations they will encounter in the future,” DeHart said.

A precipitating factor in the curriculum change were responses of some COP students on a campuswide survey administered in 2009-10, which indicated that some students did not understand the importance of diversity in health care or the need to consider attributes other than grades and test scores in admissions.

“We observed things that needed to be addressed,” DeHart said. “In admissions, we take a more holistic approach. We strive for diversity in our student body.”

To that end, two COP summer enrichment programs are geared to students with an interest in pharmacy. The Pharmacy Camp, launched in 2007, is designed to pique the interest of rising high school juniors and seniors in a career in pharmacy. About 20% of attendees of the weeklong camp have been African-American, many of whom, according to a follow-up survey, plan to apply to the UAMS COP.

The PCAT Prep Summer Program (PPSP) is a 7-week program that provides Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) preparation, basic science workshops, and pharmacy shadowing opportunities. The PPSP, which specifically targets URM and financially disadvantaged students, has been a collaborative effort of the COP (with financial support from Walgreens), the National Pharmacists Association of Arkansas and the Center for Diversity Affairs since 2009.  Five of the 21 participants completing the program in 2009 or 2010 have since been admitted to the UAMS COP.

The purpose of the PCAT program is “to augment our minority student recruitment, which in turn supports our College’s mission to improve the health of culturally diverse populations,” Dehart says.  The program also provides networking opportunities with current pharmacist practitioners and students, as well as providing information concerning the application process, financial aid, and time management.