Just two years into her pharmacy degree, Unekwuojo Agada founded the first UK student-led organisation that aims to tackle the problem of black representation in pharmacy at the source.
Just over a year later, it is causing waves on a national scale.
The Black Pharmacists Collective (BPC) is unique in that it was conceived, and is run solely by, pharmacy students themselves. “I realised that, during my degree, I just hadn’t seen black pharmacists during placements, or lectures, [or] going into pharmacies or hospitals,” says Agada. “I felt that representation was really lacking.”
Researching the subject, Agada became aware that the problem was not just in pharmacy schools: black preregistration trainees are less likely to pass the registration exam compared with their white counterparts, and even thereafter, qualified pharmacists from a minority ethnic background are more likely to be paid less than their white colleagues.
Her awareness of these entrenched inequalities propelled Agada to do something about it: “I found it all really disheartening. I felt there was a lot of work to be done and I couldn’t see that any real action had been taken.”
Agada wrote a letter to the head of her course at the University of Manchester, explaining that she and five peers were setting up the BPC — an organisation that would tackle the lack of representation of black voices at pharmacy schools, and address the enrolment and awarding gaps between white and black pharmacy students.
And, under Agada’s leadership, the BPC has gone from strength to strength. It has hosted talks by black pharmacists from all sectors, speaking about their careers and offering advice to students, and organised practical workshops to assist students with challenges such as time management.
Additional peer support is also available through a student-to-student mentorship scheme set up by the BPC. Since COVID-19, much of the BPC’s work has become digital, with hundreds of views of their video interviews with black pharmacists on Instagram.
“We don’t learn about the wide variety of careers that are available to us as a pharmacist. There are so many different things you can do,” says Agada, who herself has made great strides towards an industrial pharmacy career after being awarded the NorthWest Centre for Advanced Drug Delivery Future Industrial Pharmacy prize and completing placements at AstraZeneca and GSK.
The reach of the BPC has also extended beyond the University of Manchester. Agada and fellow BPC team member Tsariye Doro recently shared their experiences of being black pharmacy students for a podcast by The Pharmaceutical Journal about the MPharm awarding gap.
It still shocks Agada to see what an impact the BPC has had across the UK: “We have so many qualified pharmacists, of all different ethnicities, who have really engaged with us online.”
During Black History Month, the BPC held a Zoom event attended by around 50 people from across the country, in which black healthcare professionals addressed questions from black students — such as how to respond to colleagues asking why the Black Lives Matter movement is needed.
In 2021, Agada says that she hopes the BPC will hold a day-long networking workshop for students from northern universities and a focus group to identify the specific issues that black pharmacy students face.
Leading the BPC has involved a lot of work for Agada, who is in the final year of her MPharm degree. She has had to squeeze in meetings between lectures and work out how to move BPC events online owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. What keeps her going is the fear that a few years from now, nothing will have changed.
“I really have to achieve the things I set out to do,” she says. “I have two younger sisters and I don’t want to think that five, ten years down the line, those issues still won’t have been addressed.”
What would she like to see five years from now? “I would like to see more black students accepted on to the [pharmacy] course, and I would like to see them represented in lecturers, guest lecturers, tutors and on placements — because that does a lot for your confidence and knowing what you can achieve.”
Thanks to the work of Agada, alongside the other members of the BPC, that reality is one step closer.
“The BPC is amazing – their work, energy, enthusiasm. It’s a youth-led movement influencing all of us”
“I would never have had the courage to put myself out there so early in my career”
“This entry stood out. She’s the driving force behind this movement and group. A woman to watch — absolutely”
Meet the rest of The Pharmaceutical Journal’s Women to Watch 2020 here.