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Week 2 - Admissions by J. Michael Brown
I Can Show You the World, Admissions Style
October 28, 2013 - November 1, 2013

One of my favorite childhood movies was Disney’s® Aladdin.  An early theme of the movie is looking for the “diamond in the rough” to find Genie’s lamp.  This is an apt metaphor for the admissions process in pharmacy today.  I was fortunate this week to get to attend the first meeting of the 2013-2015 Special Committee on Admissions as its members begin the journey to help turn the pharmacy admissions process into a mining operation for those diamonds who will shape the future of the profession of pharmacy.

There is a growing recognition within education that not all life circumstances are created equal.  The buzz word in admissions today is “holistic.”  Like many new buzz words, many are unsure what it means.  At its heart, holistic review seeks to distance itself from traditional metrics such as your PCAT score or GPA.  In their place, more emphasis is given to involvement outside of class, whether that is through service, work experience, or other measures.  The ultimate goal of these different metrics is to diversify the student body to produce more well-rounded students at the institution and to better prepare students to face the challenges of a diversifying country upon graduation.

I believe most people recognize that diversity is a key to providing pharmacists able to best care for patients in the increasingly varied work environments we face today.  Far too often however, diversity is viewed as only differences in the race or sex of an individual.  While these are certainly important components of diversity, life circumstances can be overlooked.  According to the 2010 Census, my home state of West Virginia is made up of a 94% Caucasian population.  There is painful little ethnic diversity, but there is enormous cultural diversity between cities and rural locations in West Virginia.  Indeed, part of the mission of the University of Charleston School of Pharmacy is to produce leaders in rural healthcare. 

My observations from working with people in rural West Virginia lead me to believe that most do not care what color your skin is, or if you played on the boys’ or girls’ team growing up.  Rather, patients want to know you understand where they are coming from, and that you care about who they are as person.  Unless the student body we are striving for includes representations from communities where it takes an hour to get to the nearest pharmacy, or the majority of people never graduated from high school, or their major aspiration in life is to go to work for the mines, then how might students who do not have that experience begin to relate and provide the best care possible? 

If you cannot relate to your patients, you cannot care for your patients.  If you cannot care for your patients, pharmacy becomes a commodity.  There is no difference in retail chains because all patients see is how much they are paying for their prescriptions.  Students can work to bridge those gaps in socioeconomic education with their classmates by providing more powerful prospective through life experiences.  That should give us all pause if you care about pharmacy as a profession.  That is the reason pharmacy, like medicine and dentistry, needs to move to a more holistic admissions process.  That is the reason it is worth the investment of time necessary to find those diamonds that we have been passing over as a profession because they do not fit the pre-conceived notion of what it means to lead.  That is the reason one of my classmates from New Jersey leaves my school feeling prepared to deal with a completely different patient population than they would regularly come into contact with in their home state.  Simply put, diversity works if you have the proper institutional focus that seeks to bring students into the school representing a tapestry of socioeconomic, educational, racial, and cultural differences.

I came into this APPE experience with an interest in the Academic Affairs side of pharmacy administration.  While that is still primarily where my interests lie, being able to sit through the Special Committee on Admissions meeting this week demonstrated the importance of student recruitment on the ability of the Academic Affairs people to do their jobs properly.  I will be an advocate for Holistic admissions going forward in my career.  If I do not end up in an academic position, I will advocate for Holistic hiring.  Diversity just for the sake of diversity leads nowhere, but diversity for the sake of growth and leadership can change the practice of pharmacy into what we all know it can become.  I look forward to helping drive changes in the future of pharmacy admission! 
J. Michael Brown, Ph.D.
Pharm.D. Candidate
University of Charleston School of Pharmacy
Class of 2014


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