Is ethnicity an issue for pharmacy students?

image of Kweku Bimpong

The subject of ethnicity within the pharmacy workforce is an increasingly pertinent issue for several reasons. In November 2018, The Pharmaceutical Journal revealed figures which suggested a statistically significant pay gap of 16% between white and non-white pharmacists in the UK. Furthermore, black African pharmacy students were once again found to be the least likely to pass the preregistration exam. GPhC data from 2017 also show that Asian and black pharmacists are overrepresented in fitness-to-practise concerns.

If you are reading this article merely to find an answer to the question posed in the title, you needn’t read on — the answer is yes. However, where the issues lie and why ethnicity influences the careers of pharmacists is less clear cut. While problems persist, it is important to acknowledge the fact that conversations are taking place, and to commend those acknowledging the issue. Such conversations contribute to, and result in, efforts being made to resolve woes. However, it is equally important to point out that the issues faced by minority ethnic groups are long-standing and have been permitted to take place — the profession and society must therefore be held accountable.

Personally, I don’t believe that my experiences as a student have been influenced by the fact that I am black. I have never felt limited in my abilities to succeed as a pharmacy student because of my ethnicity. The MPharm degree or perhaps the course at Newcastle (Durham) University alone, has increased my fervour to engage with the profession. I can point to my role as the publications officer for the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA) as a product of this passion. Notably, the current BPSA executive is ethnically representative of those undertaking the pharmacy degree. Some may argue that this is indicative of a changing tide and that future pharmacy boards may follow in this stead. It would, however, be wrong to merely play a waiting game and hope for the best.

But this is just my experience. In my capacity as the publications officer, I commissioned an article concerning pharmacy and wider participation. In it, Kundai Gomwe, a second year student at the University of Manchester, argues for its need and the importance of role models  and boldly highlights her experiences. Interestingly, she points out the deliberation process minority ethnic students have to face when choosing what degree to pursue.  She also states that they often require higher qualifications and greater experience to ‘reach the same level as our Caucasian counterparts.’ Consequently, numbers of minority ethnic applicants to the MPharm course may decrease in light of seemingly stifled opportunity.

It is important to acknowledge that ethnic minority groups are not homogenous. It is likely that the extent to which ethnicity may negatively influence progression may differ between different minorities, and the types of problems faced. As such, there is an argument that the causes may not be the same in different groups, meaning that efforts should be taken to ascertain the nature and reasons for the manifestation of these maladies in each one. The disparity between the pass rates of the registration exam by black African students and their peers from other ethnic groups, highlights the intrinsic need for an intersectional approach.

As a student, I cannot look at my own experiences to identify the role ethnicity plays in career progression. The aforementioned statistics do, however, concern me greatly. While I feel confident in my abilities as a nascent pharmacist, the evidence surrounding the struggle to succeed for those of a similar pigment to myself does little to fill me with confidence. I cannot help but feel there’s a bogeyman around the corner, waiting to catch up with students of colour upon graduation. 

Opportunities for pharmacists are diversifying in ways that once seemed inconceivable, and condemning groups to mediocrity is antagonistic to this progress. Simply put, the profession must do better to ensure that the potential of all its members — both young and experienced — is harnessed and not hindered, irrespective of ethnicity.

About the author:

Kweku Bimpong is a fourth year student at Newcastle University. He is also the publications officer for the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association.


Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Is ethnicity an issue for pharmacy students?;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2019.20206138

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