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How to train an anti-racist PharmD student
By Levi Gadye / Wed Apr 14, 2021
When millions gathered around the country in the summer of 2020 to protest the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and numerous other people of color, students in the UCSF School of Pharmacy knew they had to act.
Three students—Pamela Concepcion, June Kim, and Temi Sofeso, all Class of 2022 in the doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program—penned a letter to the School’s leadership demanding immediate action to make the UCSF pharmacy community more inclusive and actively anti-racist.
The letter, signed by 93 students, suggested that the School more actively recruit Black and Brown students; recruit, hire, and tenure Black and Brown faculty members; acknowledge racism, and not race, as the primary predisposing factor undermining Black and Brown people’s health; and facilitate regular discussions for students about anti-racism.
The School’s administration, it turns out, was already on a similar page. In response to receiving the students’ letter, Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, Vice Dean Sharon L. Youmans, PharmD, MPH, and Associate Dean Cindy Watchmaker, MBA, MEd, rounded up a task force of individuals from across the School to survey how the PharmD program currently handles issues of race and racism and brainstorm targets for improvement.
“In a time of renewed national reckoning with systemic racism and injustice, our School’s commitment to UCSF’s PRIDE values [professionalism, respect, integrity, diversity, excellence] is more important than ever,” said Guglielmo. “This task force is another step toward ensuring that we live up to the highest standards of remedying health inequities and embodying anti-racism.”
The group, dubbed the Anti-racist Curriculum Task Force, was given 60 days to report on the state of the program with regards to issues of race and racism and set targets for improvements. The findings would be used by School leadership to design and implement corresponding changes to the PharmD curriculum.
“We are teaching future practitioners who will be grappling with questions of race and racism on a regular basis,” said Tram Cat, PharmD, who co-chaired the task force along with Jon Rey, MEd. “Our students need to understand bias and inequity in order to be effective community members, communicating, interacting, being empathetic.”
The task force included faculty members from each of the School’s three academic departments as well as UCSF Health, representatives from three units in the Dean’s Office, and the three PharmD students who had helped pen the letter from the student body to the School. Cat is a faculty member in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Rey is the student affairs coordinator in the Dean’s Office.
“The first thing we did was to get everybody on the same page about what it means to be anti-racist, since all of us were coming from different understandings and levels of comfort with that conversation,” said Rey. “[Faculty member] Dr. Sello came up with the idea of working backwards: if our curriculum is anti-racist, it should produce anti-racist PharmD graduates, so what should an anti-racist PharmD know, and how should they use that knowledge?”
Each element of the curriculum was scrutinized for how it addresses the history of racism in health care; health disparities; cultural humility and unconscious bias; and anti-racism advocacy.
“We have the opportunity to make equity, inclusion, and anti-racism a core part of our pharmacy training from Day One, which is why we began with orientation,” said Cat. “With inspiration from the Oath of the Pharmacist—a guiding light for our PharmDs—we asked how that commitment to the welfare of humanity must also entail a commitment to anti-racism.”
The report suggested explicitly centering anti-racism throughout PharmD training, giving students the opportunity to learn in a forgiving environment. Creation of a curricular Health Equity Thread, in parallel with the existing Inquiry Thread in the PharmD curriculum, was also among the specific recommendations.
The task force also ultimately made general recommendations for improving the School’s culture and commitment to anti-racism.
“We recognized that we could only truly offer an anti-racist PharmD curriculum if the entire being of the School was also anti-racist,” said Rey. “The School culture, the policies, the procedures, everything has to be anti-racist.”
These general recommendations included the creation of an accountability framework for a standing Diversity Committee and the hiring of a full-time “Diversity and Inclusion Officer” to chair this committee. The Task Force also suggested that the School establish safe spaces for ongoing dialogue on issues of race and racism and continuously review and revise the School’s policies as necessary. These recommendations are currently under review by administration and faculty.
Faculty members and School administrators are now drafting changes to the curriculum and School policies to meet the targets suggested by the task force’s report. But these issues of race and racism will not disappear overnight, and discussions around anti-racism, equity, and inclusion, as well as future reassessments of and changes to the PharmD curriculum and School culture, will be ongoing.
“I’m really proud of what our task force was able to learn and synthesize in just two months,” said Cat. “UCSF as a whole, and the School, from top to bottom, is committed to these issues, and now it is a matter of making good on our commitment to nurturing an inclusive pharmacy community that can advocate for anti-racism here and beyond.”
Anti-racist Curriculum Task Force Members
Jon Rey, MEd (Dean's Office)
Tram Cat, PharmD (Department of Clinical Pharmacy)
Pamela Concepcion, Class of 2022
June Kim, Class of 2022
Temi Sofeso, Class of 2022
Fran Aweeka, PharmD (Department of Clinical Pharmacy)
Suo Guo, PhD (Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences)
Akin Oni-Orisan, PharmD, PhD (Department of Clinical Pharmacy)
Jason Sello, PhD (Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry)
Ashley Thompson, PharmD (UCSF Health)
Dean's Office Staff
Liana Crosby, MFA
Cynthia Zarate, MS
About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.