Making a Difference Together: Action items from Dr. Paul Walker’s International Keynote at Together 2023   

June 6, 2023
By Dr. Paul Walker
“We are in this together. And together we can make a difference for good. Each of us, regardless of the characteristics that mark our diversity, brings valuable, diverse perspectives to our work. And together, when we value and include diverse voices, we can do great things.”  

Back in March, the Canadian Society of Hospital Pharmacists (CSHP) held its third-ever Together Conference. This year’s hybrid CSHP national conference welcomed delegates, speakers, and sponsors alike to Banff, Alberta to expand their minds and their expertise in all pharmacy-related things. Dr. Walker served as the International Keynote speaker and the text above are his inspiring words. He delivered an address to delegates at the Banff Centre as well as those attending virtually, and with his profound knowledge in both pharmacy and equity, diversity, and inclusion, brought his greetings while he serves as President of the American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists (ASHP). These words still echo in our heads as we continue to build on CSHP’s equity efforts.   

Dr. Walker’s keynote was full of comparisons between ASHP and CSHP, full of statistics on equity, diversity, and inclusion, and full of unmatched passion for both pharmacy and humankind. His incredible insights for attendees, and now for you to take away, are summarized here.   

Dr. Walker’s address provided a four-pronged approach on how pharmacy team members can enact positive change in healthcare, and in the world as a whole: education, individuality, empathy, and advocacy. Let’s break down what it is he means by those four points.   

Education: According to Dr. Walker, educating ourselves will allow us to be better prepared to interact with our patients in an ethical, respectful, and equitable manner. In fact, he said “We must learn about and respect the distinct needs of the populations we serve; we must learn about cultural healing practices and patient preferences for care; we must learn about barriers that hinder their access to health care and wellness. And we must put what we learn into action.” He reminded all those in attendance that it isn’t up to the patient or any underserved individual, but rather the onus falls on each one of us. “Do not expect members of minoritized communities to teach us; that is not their burden to bear. It is our burden, and we must shoulder the responsibility to learn about others.”  

Individuality: Dr. Walker argued that when practicing we must not just consider but acknowledge every person’s individuality by saying “We can best help them by seeing them as individuals and responding to their needs.” Our care is much “more effective when we recognize and value the diversity of our colleagues.” This concept is especially important as it touches on implicit biases that can lead to damaging assumptions toward our patients or our colleagues. “All patients may struggle with social challenges and require support in various areas at different stages in their lives.”  

Empathy: “We must cultivate empathy for others – especially for our patients.” It’s a rather simple point, though it isn’t necessarily a point practiced with patients let alone one another. “Asking about social issues in a caring, empathetic way is important,” adds Dr. Walker. It is so important, in fact, that being compassionate and caring can have a direct impact on improving outcomes.   

Advocacy:  From Dr. Walker’s perspective, we must all become advocates. “We must advocate for the use of evidence-based treatments for all patients unless there is a specific reason to use alternative treatments. We must work to eliminate barriers to appropriate pharmacotherapy and other aspects of care. We can, and we must, advocate for public policies that address health disparities and promote health equity,” he continues, “we must advocate for equity in education to improve the representation of under-represented minorities in the profession. For the benefit of our patients, it is paramount that we invest in workforce diversity that reflects the communities we serve.” While he acknowledges the power that individual advocacy can have, he believes that there is strength in unity, a unity that can cause change on an even wider scale: “We must leverage the power of our collective voice to make a difference! We are in this together!”  

Thanks to Dr. Walker’s action points along with his inspirational words. CSHP is more than ready to advance the practice of pharmacy, and we’re ready to do so together since “Together we lead; together we grow; together we create a better future.”   

Dr. Paul C. Walker, PharmD, FASHP, FMPA is Clinical Professor and Assistant Dean of Experiential Education and Community Engagement, College of Pharmacy, and Manager, Department of Pharmacy, Michigan Medicine, at the University of Michigan.