Insight into Pharmacy Education with the AACP’s Jennifer L. Adams

How the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy promotes diversity and inclusion in pharmacy education

Founded in 1900, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) represents the interests of accredited schools and colleges of pharmacy nationwide, which includes more than 6,400 faculty members, 62,500 professional students, and 5,100 graduate students. As the leading organization for pharmacy education in the U.S., the AACP aims to lead, as well as partner with, member schools to advance pharmacy education, research, scholarship, practice, and service to improve societal health.

Senior Student Affairs Adviser for the AACP Jennifer L. Adams, PharmD, EdD, recently spoke with INSIGHT Into Diversity about the organization’s efforts to increase diversity and improve cultural competency in the pharmacy profession, as well as some of the ways the AACP is working to influence pharmacy education nationwide.

Q: According to 2014 data, 14.9 percent of pharmacists are minorities, while 12.4 percent of pharmacy students enrolled in first professional degree programs in fall 2014 were from minority groups. With this in mind, what is the AACP doing to improve opportunities for and increase minority representation in pharmacy schools and in the profession at large?

A: The topics of diversity, inclusion, cultural competency, and health equity have been interwoven into the activities of our organization for many years and will continue to be interwoven into the activities moving forward, until it’s something that’s no longer talked about or no longer an issue — which, who knows if that will ever happen. But it’s definitely something that our organization is committed to helping our members with. [We have] done some good things, but we have a long way to go as well.

Our organization is made up of members who are faculty and deans at schools and colleges of pharmacy, as well as students who are interested in academic careers, and we have what are called “standing committees” that are charged each year by our president. In 2014, the president of our organization charged the [AACP’s] Argus Commission with looking into diversity and inclusion and where we are as an organization and as a profession.

That group published a report, and one of its recommendations was for the association to develop a task force on diversity. Our current president this year actually charged a task force on that topic, but with a different spin. The task force is called Diversifying Our Investment in Human Capital. … Obviously it’s important from a health equity perspective to have the right human capital in place, but it’s really more of a focus on the actual people … who make up our schools and colleges of pharmacy — whether [that’s] students or having the right faculty in place.

That committee was charged with [determining] what the barriers are to diversifying our investments that we make in human capital and what some of the game-changing activities are that are currently happening at some of our schools, and then working to propose some short- and long-term strategies for our schools and colleges of pharmacy — and for the profession — to be able to diversify the people who are part of the healthcare team serving the role as medication experts. That committee met for the first time in November, and it will be working over the course of the next two years.

Q. Why does the AACP believe it is important for people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds to be represented in the profession? 

A: When we think about diversity in pharmacy, it’s not just diversity for diversity’s sake. [We] know that if we have a diverse workforce, then we can better combat the issues that come with healthcare disparities. … To really truly have health equity, we need to have practitioners who are trained in an educational environment where diversity is evident and where they are trained and prepared to be able to work with diverse populations — and not just diversity based on race and ethnicity, but looking at patients with disabilities … or sexual orientation, the LGBTQ population.

We want to be educating our students in environments where everyone feels included, where everyone feels like it’s a safe place to learn and to be able to qualify as a good pharmacist, and that comes with the culture and the climate of the school or the college. So, this is really the backbone of the [Diversifying Our Investment in Human Capital] committee that I mentioned. To really provide health equity, it has to start with the way we educate our students.

Q: As the national organization representing pharmacy education in the U.S., does the AACP educate its member schools on and emphasize the importance of diversity, inclusion, and cultural competency to pharmacy education and practice? 

A: We help to influence accreditation standards. We are not the accrediting body — that’s the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education — but we work with them. They provide a minimum standard, and what we want is to provide what our schools should be aiming for that’s well above the minimum; those are called the CAPE outcomes, and CAPE is the Center for the Advancement of Pharmacy Education. Our organization runs that center and provides the outcomes that guide what our schools and colleges do. Diversity, inclusion, and cultural competency are a huge part of that.

We’ve also offered what we call institutes. These are different training conferences for teams of faculty and administrators, [where they] come to learn about different topics. We’ve had institutes in the past on cultural competency.

Q: Knowing that different populations face varying health risks, what is the AACP doing to improve knowledge and understanding of these to help current and future pharmacists better address health disparities, as well as treat and be sensitive to the needs of diverse groups?

A: In terms of the training and other things that we do, we can impact the schools and the faculty, and then they can take what they’ve learned from us and implement that in the classroom with students. So, it’s not anything that we are necessarily providing, but we’re helping our schools improve their students’ knowledge and understanding.

We’ve talked a little about some of the ways that we do that, but one of the other ways is that we have a couple of special interest groups, [such as one] for minority faculty and [another one] on cultural competence and health disparities. We provide those venues for our members to be able to collaborate on research and on teaching best practices in those areas, and for people with similar interests to engage. Our cultural competence and health equity special interest group, in particular, is very active and engaged; they host webinars for their membership on a regular basis.

Q: With the ongoing debate over religious freedom in the U.S., is the AACP doing anything to address the issue of conscientious objection and to educate schools and students both on pharmacists’ obligations and rights, as well as the rights of patients? 

A: This is not necessarily something that we have a policy within our organization about, but the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) does have policies related to conscientious objection. It’s not something that I can fully speak to on behalf of the AACP, but I can speak to it on behalf of the fact that I am a pharmacist.

The policy they have at APhA … says that pharmacists should be able to step out of the way of caring for a patient [if] they have a conscientious objection, but they can’t step in the way of a patient receiving the appropriate care. That’s a challenge for an organization like ours because we have schools and colleges of pharmacy that are at faith-based institutions, where the faith of that institution definitely guides the way it provides education and teaches students. We have to be able to support those schools but also support large public institutions. It’s one of those topics that we hope our faculty handle in a sensitive way, because for people who do have a conscientious objection, we don’t want them to have to engage in anything related to healthcare that they are opposed to, but we also don’t want them stepping in the way of patients [receiving care].

I can give you an example. I worked part time as a community pharmacist for a number of years, and I worked with a pharmacist who had a conscientious objection to dispensing birth control. If you were a patient who visited that pharmacy, you would never have an issue being able to get birth control, but that particular pharmacist was not the person who was going to dispense it. … And I can almost guarantee that there was not a single patient at that pharmacy who was on birth control who ever had an issue being able to access the care they needed.

It’s not necessarily something that our association has tackled from a policy perspective, … but it is something that’s addressed in our member schools and colleges of pharmacy. Generally, most of the education that we provide is based on an expressed need from our schools and colleges; this isn’t something that has bubbled up in terms of being a big priority, and I think the reason for that is that they are already incorporating it into the way they’re educating their students.

The laws on conscientious objection vary by state. … Regardless of what state [a student is educated in], they may do residencies someplace else; they may move to another state and practice. So when we educate, we try to educate as broadly as we can, but when you learn law, you’re learning it for the state that you’re in. However, to be a practicing pharmacist, [all states require] that you take a law exam to be licensed in that particular state.●

Alexandra Vollman is the editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity. For more information on the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, visit aacp.org.