The Black Pharmacists Collective (BPC) is a group of six Black pharmacy students at The University of Manchester who are working hard to close the enrolment and attainment gaps between White and Black students. Unekwuojo Agada, Tsariye Doro, Kundai Gomwe, Joel Boateng, Marianna Aturia and Priscilla Dumenu have all recently finished their third years at Manchester, but took some time out to talk all things BPC in what is hopefully a time of change for racial inequality…
The origins of the BPC
Black Pharmacists Collective (BPC) is a concept which came about in the Summer of 2019. Our founder, Unekwuojo Agada, realised the rarity of encountering a Black pharmacist after completing various pharmacy placements across community, hospital and industry settings. Looking higher in different organisations, this representation only decreased.
After further research, Unekwuojo found information about the attainment gap at Pre-Registration level and began to understand why so few Black pharmacists were seen overall and even fewer practising in higher grade roles. This was something that needed to change and could only change from the ground upwards. Unekwuojo was fortunate to be surrounded by other Black pharmacy students who were passionate about tackling the issue and from there, Black Pharmacists Collective (BPC) was formed.
Closing the attainment gap
The attainment gap between White and Black students is quite stark (as reported by The Pharmaceutical Journal) but the way Black pharmacy students fair amongst the rest of their non-white peers is also concerning. One of the key shortcomings we immediately identified was the lack of representation within the pharmacy profession. Between the six of us, with our varied pharmacy backgrounds and experiences, we could not name more than a handful of Black pharmacists or lecturers at our School of Pharmacy. In order to tackle this, we feature Black pharmacy professionals at our ‘inFocus’ events.
Each event focuses on a different sector in pharmacy, with speakers from multinational pharmaceutical companies (such as AstraZeneca) to current Pre-Registration students, GP Pharmacists and more. Throughout the 2019-20 academic year, we hosted five ‘inFocus’ events and one workshop which aimed to help students tackle procrastination. Feedback from attendees has been overwhelmingly positive. Receiving advice directly from Black pharmacy professionals in relation to their journeys and challenges has been an invaluable way to educate and empower the Black community about issues that are more specific to them.
The highlights so far
There have been countless highlights of being part of BPC, as we can all agree, but some aspects have definitely stood out.
After hosting our first inFocus event centred around the pharmaceutical industry, we wrote an article for The Pharmaceutical Journal on our approach to closing the attainment gap between Black pharmacy students and their White counterparts. As BPC was a relatively new organisation, this was an amazing opportunity and we were truly humbled to be chosen to write up the piece.
Additionally, we collaborated with the independent charity, Pharmacist Support. Some of our members featured in their ACTNow student campaign video, emphasising the importance of mental health and creating community across the student demographic. We were involved in a lot of the background work, bringing the student video to life and we were pleased to be able to contribute to this important campaign.
Making a difference award winners
It was such an honour to be nominated for the 2020 Make a Difference Awards for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Widening Participation’, alongside other commendable staff and students. We want to especially thank Dr David Allison for nominating us and congratulate him on his own win. The projects within our category were truly admirable.
Being nominated alongside Medics in Primary Schools and Manchester Outreach Medics was humbling and we were ecstatic about winning the award. The awards represent what we do and why we exist – which is to make a difference. Therefore, we are glad to have had the opportunity to be recognised for our efforts and hope to shine this recognition on the areas that need it most.
Looking at racial inequality outside of pharmacy
We strongly believe in creating spaces for Black students where there otherwise would not have been any. These experiences are not unique to pharmacy and we have begun collaborations with societies within the university (e.g. Afro-Caribbean Medical Society) to amplify the voices of Black students collectively. This ties into our hope of inspiring other Black students across the different Schools within our university and beyond, to ensure they are heard and supported in tackling any inherent prejudices working against them within their institutions.
This is extremely timely, given the recent events across the world, highlighting the racial inequalities faced by Black people in every sector, and we are keen to speak up about the issues Black people face within pharmacy.
We have been grateful to have staff members at our School of Pharmacy who have been incredibly supportive of our work and have helped us make our ideas a reality. This support has included practical help with booking rooms, facilitating connections with potential speakers and meeting with us regularly to discuss our progress.
We had planned to host a focus group, in conjunction with our School’s Widening Participation lead, to identify the specific issues that Black pharmacy students face at The University of Manchester, however we were unable to run this due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our hope is to resume this in the new academic year.
We are all entering our fourth (and final!) year of university in September. It feels like the years have gone so quickly, and we still have so much we want to achieve. Even though we will be graduating soon, we hope to continue making significant changes for current and incoming students. Whilst we are happy to be helping students at The University of Manchester, our hope is to do much more at other pharmacy schools across the UK. We hope to see changes in pharmacy curriculum’s, but also in the cultures and university communities, to ensure Black students are better supported.
We have so many ideas and we cannot wait to see these come to fruition. Of course, as with everything funding is required to make dreams a reality, and that is what we are looking into at the moment. Once we get the support we need, we will be truly unstoppable.