Implementing Inclusive Practices in the Pharmacy School Admissions Process

June 6, 2023
By Victoria Ezekwemba
Article originally posted on Hospital News
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion- or EDI for short- refer to principles used by institutions to ensure fair treatment of individuals from minority groups who have historically been discriminated against. Equity means aiming for fairness as well as helping to equalize the imbalances among people. Diversity means acknowledging the differences in people (ex: race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc) and celebrating those differences. Finally, inclusion refers to the creation of an environment where everyone regardless of their differences feels accepted.   

EDI is important in pharmacy and in healthcare in general because medical discrimination has been associated with poorer health outcomes such as lower life expectancy, strained mental health, higher blood pressure and lower rates of influenza immunization as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2015. Thus, it is important to incorporate EDI in pharmacy practice to minimize health disparities faced by marginalized groups, thus allowing for the optimal safety and well-being of all patients.   

For patients from underrepresented groups, having healthcare professionals who look like them is important as they feel more comfortable confiding in their providers about their health. Several U.S studies show this increased trust is because providers who are from the same minority group as their patients tend to be more culturally competent, less likely to discriminate against the patient and they have a better understanding of patient preferences/how to best communicate with them. Also having a provider who identifies similarly to their patients can lessen the chance of patients being neglected or not believed which results in better health outcomes for patients.    

According to the 2021 Census done by Statistics Canada, about 27% of Canadians are from minority groups (not including the Indigenous) and only 5% of the Canadian population is Indigenous. However, the percentage of minority groups in Scientific and Professional occupations (which includes pharmacy) is about 22% and for Indigenous people is roughly 4%. This means there are less minority pharmacy professionals than there are patients from minority groups.    

For all patients to see themselves accurately represented in their pharmacy team, there needs to be an increase in representation of minority groups in pharmacy. This can be done by making the pharmacy school admissions process more inclusive to better recruit students from minority groups.   

Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) students are underrepresented in Canadian pharmacy schools. It is estimated that less than 5% of students enrolled in pharmacy schools are Black. Indigenous students and other people of colour have low numbers in pharmacy programs as well. Thus, it is important to make the pharmacy school admissions process more inclusive.    

Currently, several if not all Canadian pharmacy faculties have implemented EDI efforts in their programs/faculties. However, there is more that can be done to help increase the admission of students from minority groups.    

Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University has implemented strategies to enhance EDI in their medical school admissions process. The strategies include having applicants complete a diversity survey, making the admissions committee more diverse as well as having an equity representative on the committee, mandatory bias training for the admissions committee, a bio sketch of the applicant’s life experience and a pathway specifically for minority students. These strategies help to make the admissions process more inclusive and equitable, thus enhancing the diversity of the school.    

There are several other resources (listed below) which can be used by pharmacy schools to help increase the recruitment of minority students.    

These are mainly research and medical school focused. However, most of the strategies are transferable and thus can be used by pharmacy school admissions panels when considering applicants. To learn more about strategies for an inclusive admissions process, please check out the links below:   

University of Toronto:
Some strategies included in the resource: 

  • Use of inclusive language when posting about applications.  
  • Having an equity officer   
  • Considering EDI in the composition of your team.  
  • Having a process that minimizes the chance for bias.   

Western University:
Some strategies included in the resource: 

  • EDI Training   
  • Considering diversity in the interview process.  
  • Publicizing positions in places that underrepresented groups can see it.   

Association of American Medical Colleges:
Some practices discussed in the resource:   

  • How to recognize your own biases when doing and assessing interviews.   
  • How to minimize unconscious bias in the search/recruitment process.  
  • EDI is important in pharmacy in order to ensure the best health outcomes possible for all patients. For this to happen, there needs to be an increase in BIPOC professionals in pharmacy. As such, the pharmacy school admission process needs to be more inclusive. 

Victoria Ezekwemba is a PharmD Candidate Class of 2023 at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto. She is passionate about inclusion in pharmacy practice and chronic disease management.