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Michelle Cathers

Increase in Black pharmacists comes almost entirely from Black women, according to new data

Health care providers often hear that patients want to receive care from someone who looks like them. In the medical sphere, a growing body of research even supports the claim that this leads to better care, but the majority of physicians are not representative of certain minority groups.

Researchers wanted to find out if other fields of health care, such as pharmacy and dentistry, had similar underrepresentation by race, ethnicity, and sex. They published their results in JAMA Network Open.

While there were increases in Black and Hispanic women in these occupations according to the findings, and even larger increases among white and Asian women, the study found no improvement in the representation of Black and Hispanic men in pharmacy and dentistry.

“This is probably not new to the pharmacy field, but I think what’s new, in a sense, is that having a workforce that is not representative of the U.S. population is a common problem among many of our more well-paying and prestigious fields of health care,” said lead author Dan Ly, MD, PhD, from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles and the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

“The novelty is that health care as a whole needs to continue to work to diversify most of its ranks,” said Ly.

For the pharmacy profession, the increase in Black pharmacists comes almost entirely from Black women, according to the data.

The JAMA Network Open findings seem to be mirrored in other research as well. In a study the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) published in 2020 based on 2019 data, the number of non-white licensed pharmacists increased by 46%, from 14.9% in 2014 to 21.8% in 2019. The percentage of Black pharmacists more than doubled during this time period, from 2.3% to 4.9%, respectively.

The AACP findings also revealed that pharmacy continues to be a female-dominated profession, with nearly 66% of the workforce comprised of women in the field today compared to 46% in 2009.

According to the JAMA Network Open study results, little to no change was observed in the percentage of men from underrepresented minorities in pharmacy and other occupations like medicine and surgery. Statistically significant increases were observed in the percentage of both Black and Hispanic women in pharmacy, medicine, and surgery. For example, the percentage of pharmacists who were Black women increased 1.3%, and the percentage of dentists who were Hispanic women increased 1.0%. Increases for white and Asian women in these occupations were larger than for Black and Hispanic women.

Vibhuti Arya, PharmD, MPH, who is involved in the AACP study, wonders about how the pandemic will affect the pharmacy profession, especially as it relates to gender distribution.

During the pandemic, women have taken on more caregiving roles, including informal caregiving for both children and older adults. Will there be pharmacists exiting the profession? If so, what will that look like across gender, race, and ethnicity?

“When we talk about gender equity, we sometimes think of it simplistically, but a lot of unpaid labor such as informal caregiving and taking on other roles at home often go unnoticed,” said Arya, who is a global lead for the International Pharmaceutical Federation’s Workforce Development Hub as well as a professor at St. John’s University in New York.

“We might see a shift right away,” she said, “or it may be more of a strategic transition over the next few years.”  Some women might see more flexibility in entrepreneurship, but with that also comes both privilege and sometimes extra burden, according to Arya.

Loren Bonner, senior editor

For the full article, please visit www.pharmacytoday.org for the October 2021 issue of Pharmacy Today.  

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