A Call to Action- Pharmacists’ role and responsibility regarding systemic racism

A Call to Action- Pharmacists’ role and responsibility regarding systemic racism
Emily Evan, PharmD., Community-University Health Care Center

The recent increase in recognition of the systemic racism that has plagued the United States and the world for centuries has culminated in declarations of racism as a public health crisis. This has highlighted the need for many, including pharmacists, to better understand their role within this system and what can be done to dismantle it. A recent article in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association by Arya et. al sought to help address this issue within pharmacy by illustrating the shortcomings that currently exist and providing actionable recommendations for how to improve. As pharmacists, especially white pharmacists who hold privilege in these spaces, we owe it to our patients and the communities we serve, as well as our colleagues, current and future pharmacy students, and society as a whole to use our knowledge and unique accessibility to do our part in addressing structural racism and its consequences.

Despite inclusion of cultural competency training in pharmacy school curricula, identifying the role systemic racism plays in social determinants of health is not often explicitly taught, and as a result the connection is not always understood by students and healthcare professionals. Pharmacists who identify as Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color (BIPOC) often face the expectation to lead diversity initiatives and be ambassadors for diverse groups within their often predominantly white organizations while also facing racism in both their personal and professional worlds. Furthermore, our BIPOC colleagues may also be dealing with past trauma resulting from the horrific treatment of these communities that has been going on for centuries. It is an understatement to say that significant work must be done to address these failings, and Arya et al. outline areas in which we can begin to make an impact and where white pharmacists must take the lead.

The scope of the implications and pervasiveness of systemic racism can make it feel difficult to identify where to begin in the fight for justice and equity. However, the first action item in the article centers around taking personal responsibility for increasing one’s understanding of where and how systemic racism impacts different communities.

On an institutional level, organizations should review policies and procedures to ensure they are equitable, support advocacy efforts regarding diversity and equity, and focus on creating opportunities for BIPOC individuals in leadership positions. These organizations should also consider creating antiracism task forces and/or committees,designing a position such as a Chief Diversity Officer, and to support these initiatives with adequate resources to truly have an impact. Furthermore, professional organizations should also review policies and consider strengthening their positions regarding equity and diversity. From an academic perspective, pharmacy schools and colleges need to better incorporate teachings on implicit bias and antiracism training. Additionally, the recruitment efforts of these schools must place an increased emphasis on recruiting students more representative of the communities that program graduates will serve. Faculty hiring and tenure processes should also be examined to ensure that BIPOC individuals are represented in this capacity as well.

Regardless of the setting or organizational level, creating a safe environment for discussion of antiracism, implicit bias, and dialogue around how individual pharmacists and institutions as a whole can work toward minimizing and eventually eliminating systemic racism will be essential. Equally important will be engaging patients and the community by soliciting input and engaging in shared decision-making, while avoiding making assumptions around the needs of the community. As the pharmacy community joins in the fight against systemic racism, it’s easy to see that the time is now for white pharmacists, institutions, and others with the power to dismantle oppressive systems to start investing time and resources to that end, but it is also important to understand that really the time for action was decades ago. As the authors conclude, pharmacists, especially white pharmacists, must critically review their role in dismantling structural racism such that they can truly uphold the tenets of the Oath of the Pharmacist: to consider the welfare of humanity and relief of human suffering- for all patients.


  1. Arya V, Butler, L, Leal, S et al. Systemic racism: Pharmacists’ role and responsibility. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2020; 60(6), E43-E46. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.japh.2020.09.003.