Healing the pain of racial oppression can’t wait

Statements condemning systemic, institutionalized racism against Black Americans are important, but they are only a first step to creating a better world. Earlier this month, APhA, the National Pharmaceutical Association, and 12 other pharmacy organizations created a joint statement opposing racial injustice. APhA sees this as the beginning of our work to right centuries of wrong, not the end.

While APhA and the other signatories explicitly denounce law enforcement violence and misconduct, we have a powerful platform right where we stand—in our pharmacies.

The joint statement refers to the oath we all took as pharmacists, “I will consider the welfare of humanity and relief of suffering my primary concerns.” We’re seeing a glaring example of suffering in COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on communities of color (read a CDC resource on this issue here). We cannot ignore the connection between historic oppression and poorer health outcomes, and these are far from limited to COVID-19. Dismal disparities in maternal and infant health and chronic conditions like hypertension and heart disease are a disgrace to our nation. These disparities persist even when controlling for socioeconomic status. Something more sinister is at play, and pharmacists and pharmacy staff have to be a part of disrupting that cycle.

The APhA Board of Trustees set in motion an action plan to influence personal, professional, and societal change. First, the Board approved the formation of a task force to guide APhA and the profession on policy, communications, and activities geared at dismantling racial injustice. LCDR Andrew Gentles, PharmD, BCPS, AQ-ID, will chair this important group. APhA will also host forums, including town halls, for members to share their thoughts on fighting racism. On Friday, June 26, we will hold a social media campaign using the hashtag #PharmacistsFightingRacism. Learn more at the campaign's website at www.pharmacist.com/pharmacistsfightingracism. We hope you will participate.

In the joint statement, signatories promise to “advocate for measures that eliminate inequities resulting from racism and discrimination in every facet of our profession, including patient care, pharmacist and pharmacy technician continuing education, student pharmacist education, workplace practices, pharmacy school admissions, leadership opportunities, and organizational policies.”

So where can we start doing that as a profession? Often it begins with a personal inventory of our own implicit biases. The July cover story of Pharmacy Today will give you some tools to get started. It goes live on www.pharmacytoday.org the first week of July and hits mailboxes a few weeks later. To start now, take the Harvard University Implicit Association Test or explore Harro’s Cycle of Socialization.

Get involved with APhA’s Care of Underserved Patients Special Interest Group and APhA’s Public Health Special Interest Group to learn more about social determinants of health and barriers to care—like lack of access to resources, financial obstacles, uninsurance and underinsurance, challenges in transportation, difficulties in obtaining healthy food, and the toxic stress of being treated unequally—and how to be resourceful advocates to meet patients’ needs.

As APhA and our 13 sister organizations vowed in our joint statement, we will work together to provide opportunities to address health care disparities and strengthen affected communities. APhA will build educational resources for pharmacists, student pharmacists, and pharmacy technicians to tackle health care challenges for marginalized communities. The dialogue between pharmacy organizations, pharmacy stakeholders, and pharmacy practitioners will continue, with an eye toward identifying and implementing strategies to improve health outcomes for historically underserved Americans.

We must capitalize on the momentum of this time in history and keep fighting until medical disparities and racism in health care are eliminated. I look forward to working with all of you on these vital efforts.