When Dr. Willie Davis, Jr., the associate dean of student services at the Loma Linda University School of Pharmacy, gets word that some students received long-awaited financial support to help them continue their studies, he’s overjoyed. “When that happens, it’s the best feeling; those are the best days that I have working here,” Davis said.
In San Bernardino County, Calif., where the university is located, 60 percent of the population is Hispanic and Latinx. With that population, as Dean Dr. Michael Hogue noted, pharmacists are in a special position to serve the community. “A shared cultural understanding allows pharmacists to break communication barriers and provide medical interventions relevant to the patient,” Hogue said.
Davis anticipates seeing more success for the school’s Hispanic/Latinx student pharmacists now that the opportunity to serve this population has been given a big boost: The school received a $3.46 million federal grant to establish the nation’s first Hispanic Center of Excellence in Pharmacy from the Health Resources and Services Administration to finance initiatives for medically vulnerable populations. As a Center of Excellence, university officials said they will improve educational and training opportunities for the Hispanic/Latinx community, increase the number of Hispanic pharmacists in the area and establish efforts to address health issues among residents of the area known as the Inland Empire.
Davis, the center’s program director, also expects to see many more letters of financial support for students and an increased opportunity to develop educational programs for recruiting students and faculty. The grant will provide scholarship support of nearly $1 million over five years; $15,000 yearly stipends for 65 students “to help make a dent into the debt load,” he said. The ultimate goal is to improve health outcomes for underserved members of the community. “Growing up in Atlanta, we were poor and didn’t have the greatest healthcare. My educational opportunities wouldn’t have been there if I didn’t have the financial resources. I understand what the students are going through, and I understand what it is like being in an underserved area.”
Referring to members of the community, he observed that they are “a critical part of us. That is a deeply spiritual part of the DNA here.” Although only one school of pharmacy had previously received a Center of Excellence grant, Loma Linda University supported School of Pharmacy officials when they said they would seek the funding. “We looked at the state of California and saw that only 5.8 percent of pharmacy students are Hispanic/Latinx,” Hogue said. “Yet here in Loma Linda, our enrollment is three times higher than that. So we felt as an institution that the School of Pharmacy should go after this Center of Excellence designation.”
The argument worked. Hogue said he is excited about receiving the award but also recognizes the challenge. The center will be part of a significant team, Hogue said, including a collaboration with the university’s School of Behavioral Health and community partnerships that involve the Inland Empire Health Plan, SAC Health, El Sol Neighborhood Educational Center and the San Bernadino City Unified School District. Those collaborations will be directed at training Hispanic and other underrepresented minority student pharmacists in areas that can only enhance their professional capacity, by evaluating such issues as social determinants of health and behavioral health. Students also will be trained in community pharmacies.