Hispanic Representation Reaches New Heights

AACP Article

As the nation’s first Hispanic Center of Excellence in Pharmacy, the Loma Linda University School of Pharmacy is one of several institutions working to diversify recruitment to support this underrepresented population and improve health outcomes for vulnerable communities.

By Joseph A. Cantlupe

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.

We recognized the need to grow at the time we applied for the grant and the need to expand our faculty ranks. The demand for Spanish-speaking individuals has grown dramatically. There is a huge gap in our faculty. This is the right thing to do. We want to intentionally grow that.

Dr. Michael Hogue

Despite the number of Hispanic students they serve, school officials concede that there are obstacles ahead. For instance, the number of Hispanic/Latinx faculty members is lacking. “We wanted a proactive approach to address these issues. We recognized the need to grow at the time we applied for the grant and the need to expand our faculty ranks,” Hogue said, noting that there are only two Hispanic faculty members. “The demand for Spanish-speaking individuals has grown dramatically. There is a huge gap in our faculty. This is the right thing to do. We want to intentionally grow that.”

Added Davis: “We can’t expect to encourage Spanish-speaking students to move into academic pharmacy if we don’t address that issue.” A fellowship program connected to the grant is unique because it includes behavioral programs as part of training for faculty and students.

Beyond Hispanic Heritage Month

With an increasing Hispanic/Latinx population across the country, universities and colleges of pharmacy are initiating targeted programs to increase their student base and faculty, keenly aware that they must make significant strides to meet the needs of patients in their communities. As a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), Loma Linda University is also among the colleges designated through grants to strengthen their efforts to recruit and support underrepresented students, grow a more diversified faculty and serve communities as a comprehensive healthcare institution.

To receive HSI status, the U.S. Department of Education requires a Hispanic/Latinx undergraduate student population of at least 25 percent at the end of the award year immediately preceding the date of application. HSI was established under Titles III and V of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to improve higher education accessibility for Hispanics and make available grant funding through various federal agencies. The grants also enable HSIs to expand and enhance their academic offerings, program quality and institutional stability. About 569 institutions across the country have HSI status, which also makes available dedicated U.S. Department of Education Hispanic-Serving Institutions Grant Programs.

The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, which includes the Jerry H. Hodge School of Pharmacy, was formally recognized in February as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. The institution is only the third health sciences center in Texas to receive HSI status. In a statement, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center President Dr. Lori Rice-Spearman said the HSI status serves as a building block to train healthcare professionals to serve a more diverse population. Hispanic students are the second-largest ethnic group in higher education and HSIs educate 66.8 percent of all Hispanic students in the country. When applying for HSI designation, the university reported 27 percent of Hispanic undergraduate students in the fall of 2019.

“This recognition as a Hispanic-Serving Institution supports our vision to transform healthcare through innovation and collaboration,” Rice-Spearman added. “It provides opportunities to work collaboratively not only within our institution but also with external community partners in all areas of academic medicine. As a result, we anticipate leading efforts where innovative contributions allow us to better serve all populations, establishing a culture that will serve as a model for others.”

School officials are proud of the designation but point to an already long history of serving Hispanic students, said Jody C. Randall, vice president of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI). After the center received the HSI designation, Randall said university officials “began to explore what it means for us” and ultimately decided that it reflected “strengthening this community and identifying all populations, beginning with the creation and development of initiatives serving Hispanic populations. With this, we can then better serve all marginalized communities. We have many opportunities ahead and work to do.”

Randall said the school recruits students who are often from rural areas and want to serve West Texas communities with significant healthcare needs. While an estimated 138 U.S. counties are considered “pharmacy deserts,” Randall said, 22 are in Texas, with 20 being in the institution’s service area. At the same time, the pharmacy school has adopted a strategic plan to reflect improved curriculum and recruitment goals. Currently, Hispanic student enrollment in the pharmacy school is around 11 percent, while Hispanics comprise about 6 percent of the faculty; both areas “have opportunities for growth. Thoughtful planning like what the school has done will help us in closing this disparity.”

Considering the demographics of Texas as a state institution, we want to make sure we contribute to the population of researchers, academics and pharmacists that are representative of the state we serve.

Cristina Tejeda

Like many schools, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month last fall. The celebrations are important, but Randall acknowledged that the school must dig deeper not only for the month, but the days, months and years ahead. “We jump on those celebrations too. When you are looking at a heritage or cultural celebrations, it brings an emphasis to a people or a community for some time,” she said, “but the work continues. Some people don’t see beyond that. We do at our institution.”

She said the HSI designation will help the university leverage resources on a national level to support things such as curriculum development, outreach programs and research opportunities for students, faculty, staff and patients. “In healthcare education, there are pretty obvious health disparities, and there is a need to transform healthcare. We are doing just that through intentional efforts and our commitment to advance diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Diversifying the Pharmacy Pipeline

In 2020, the University of Texas at Austin received the Hispanic-Serving Institution designation, and then joined the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities in 2022. Last year, the university’s College of Pharmacy was the winner of a Health Professions Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award. The college has designed programs “to strengthen the pipeline of pharmacists with diverse backgrounds,” said Cristina Tejeda, senior diversity & inclusion coordinator. Her responsibilities include assisting with planning and implementing the college’s diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion initiatives for faculty, students and staff. “Considering the demographics of Texas as a state institution, we want to make sure we contribute to the population of researchers, academics and pharmacists that are representative of the state we serve.” Among the university’s programs:

  • Its Building Our Own Talent (BOOT) program is designed to increase the recruitment, retention and preparation of trainees from diverse backgrounds (taking into account race, ethnicity, national origin, gender and gender identity, sexuality, socioeconomic class and religion) for an academic career in pharmaceutical sciences.
  • Its Leadership through Engagement for the Advancement of Diverse Educational Research (LEADER) program is a nine-week summer research experience for rising junior or senior undergraduate students from Texas’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-Serving Institutions. The program provides an opportunity for students to receive on-site “high-quality, hands-on research experiences and mentoring to increase student applications from Texas HBCUs and HSIs into the graduate programs associated with the College of Pharmacy,” Tejeda said. “Participating faculty mentors come from several of the college’s divisions and have demonstrated experience training and mentoring undergraduate students.” Students receive a stipend and housing, meals and parking at no cost.
  • A three-day Project Engage Pharmacy Program (PEPP) is geared toward underrepresented minority and first-generation student applicants from minority-serving institutions who are interested in health professions or biomedical sciences. Students are exposed to the diverse field of pharmacy by engaging in visits to different types of pharmacy practice environments.
  • Provost’s Early Career Fellows. The idea is to increase the number of faculty who will further UT Austin’s goals of diversity, equity and inclusiveness by attracting and hiring candidates with outstanding scholarly records, as well as knowledge and experience in the issues and practices of diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Last summer, the school supported 15 participants through the PEPP, LEADER and BOOT programs. In the strategic plan, the DEI efforts “are clearly outlined and are at the core of the work and interactions carried out,” Tejeda said. The efforts are “woven throughout the college’s curriculum and community. An aspect of the program that has been most impactful is built-in mentorship opportunities. With Texas as well as other states in the nation facing increased healthcare needs, it helps to understand the healthcare landscape from professionals in the field now who can provide keen insight to our students.”

Joseph A. Cantlupe is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.