Build Bridges to Sustain EDI Efforts
In the Institute’s closing session, “How to Be an Accomplice and Cause Good Trouble,” Dr. Regina McClinton, chief officer for diversity, equity and inclusion, University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, reflected on being the power behind EDI efforts and allowing others to take the lead. The key to making sustainable progress around equity, diversity and inclusion is to recognize that it is about building relationships, she said.
“You can have the different conversations that need to be had because you built trust and cache first,” McClinton explained. “EDI work is emotional in many ways. Here we are in these schools with pharmacists for whom things have to be perfect or a patient gets hurt. I am asking them to use different parts of their brains and beings to understand the needs of people they have not traditionally considered, or goals they have not traditionally considered.”
Attracting a more diverse student population is essential. When McClinton started doing EDI work at Michigan, “people listened because I had built the rapport and made the connections and understood where people were so I could steer them where I needed them go,” she continued. “The other thing about being an accomplice is when you do that, other people get wins in EDI. The barriers can seem so high. If you let them lead something they build their confidence, they build recognition and they begin to embrace the work because they see themselves as part of it.”
Understanding an institution’s culture, values and mission is a necessary first step before attempting to implement EDI initiatives. The leadership absolutely must be on board so you have leverage when you are making connections and making the case for change, McClinton said. “If pharmacy schools want to produce the best and brightest and be transformative but the workforce does not represent America, then you’ve failed. Those voices are not at the table. It behooves pharmacy schools to produce diverse cohorts, have diverse student populations so they represent the needs and cultures of America that are out there.” EDI efforts advance the pharmacy profession as a whole because when students understand these issues, it translates to better patient care.
“Even the students that are not from underrepresented groups need to come up to speed and understand cultural differences and values. They will hear their patients differently and will be able to better connect to those patients than those who have not received that kind of training,” she emphasized. “In particular, those who are from similar backgrounds to the populations are more relatable. I know that when I work with white clinicians, I’m thinking, ‘how am I saying this so you understand me?’ It is hard labor to have to train your clinician to understand you. When that person understands you, you trust what the clinician is saying. It isn’t that it always has to be a Black clinician treating a Black person. You just need to be aware.”
Bringing more diverse voices to these conversations will also result in richer approaches to addressing social determinants of health. “If schools are not producing well-rounded pharmacists that are able to have seats at the table in their organizations or on a larger scale in a city or a state, our ability to effectively address social determinants of health is hampered,” McClinton added. Ensuring that EDI is considered mission critical within a pharmacy school—leading from the top and listening from the bottom—will support its sustainability.
“What do you look like to the rest of the world? If you’re bringing in faculty that are people of color, they will have needs that other faculty will not. We understand that about women, so we need to understand that people of color may have additional demands on them,” she noted. “Students of color will flock to that faculty member. You might have that person on three committees. The work of EDI has to be the work of the whole college.” Within the university, it’s essential to communicate the value and importance of EDI to the president and provost so they can secure necessary funding to support outreach efforts.
An ongoing part of EDI work is to help people be comfortable with being uncomfortable and to get to know people who are not like them so they can have authentic exchanges. “For pharmacy schools to create that and model that for the students and demonstrate the value so they are equipped after they leave is part of that sustainability,” she said. “Those people become your alums. It turns those students into bridge builders in areas they would not have been without that kind of exposure.”
Finally, she added, “EDI work is a marathon, but it’s like an ultra-marathon that lasts 50 days through a hot desert. People have to understand that you might get quick wins early on, but then the real work begins. If you get off course, you have to find your way back. Build a cohort and network. Build that community of people invested enough to do that work in your organization.”
Jane E. Rooney is managing editor of Academic Pharmacy Now.