Behind the scenes with Dr. Suzanne Soliman, who created National Women Pharmacist Day
When you are filling out your calendar, be sure to note that October 12 is National Women Pharmacist Day. This is due to the hard work of Suzanne Rabi Soliman, PharmD.
Dr. Soliman graduated from the University of Illinois—Chicago in 2004, and completed a residency at Midwestern University in Chicago. She has worked in many fields of pharmacy, from starting her own independent pharmacy to working as a clinical pharmacist, to serving as the Assistant Dean of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois and Associate Dean of the Touro College of Pharmacy. Dr. Soliman is currently the Chief Academic Officer for the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs. On the social media front, she founded a Facebook group that brings together thousands of pharmacist moms.
I spoke with Dr. Soliman about her pathway to having women in pharmacy recognized. She explained that she was always passionate about women’s rights, and with her experience in academia she took note that more females were entering pharmacy school. When Dr. Soliman looked at the black and white class photos of her pharmacy school from many years ago, she noticed that most of the class was comprised of males, with only one or two females. Now, she feels strongly that since women comprise up to 2/3 of a pharmacy class, they should be recognized. She noted that there had been nothing to celebrate how far women have come in a traditionally male-dominated profession.
Dr. Soliman chose October 12 as National Women Pharmacist Day because October is American Pharmacist Month, and she chose the number 12 in honor of Elizabeth Greenleaf. Ms. Greenleaf was the first woman pharmacist in America1 and had 12 childrene. As a pharmacist and mom, Dr. Soliman found that to be inspiring and therefore chose October 12.
For some background about the increasing presence of women in the field of pharmacy, I turned to Mary Euler, PharmD, FAPhA, Professor and Associate Dean for Student Services at the West Virginia University School of Pharmacy. Dr Euler noted that in the early 1900’s, many pharmacy programs opened with all men; a woman in the program would have been a rarity. During World War II, a temporary increase of woman in the profession occurred as men were not as available. In the 30 years that Dr Euler has been in pharmacy academia, she has seen a gradual shift from 60% men/40% women to now about 40% men/60% women..
Dr Euler recalled in 1984, on her first day working as a pharmacist, patients walked in and asked her, “Where’s the man?” It took a while for people to warm up to the fact that women were qualified to be pharmacists. She explained that as recent as the late 1990’s, there was speculation that women would ruin the profession by having children and not coming back to work full-time. This, of course, did not prove true.
Enrollments in schools of pharmacy across the board currently show women at 64% and men at 36% of students. Why did we see this shift? Dr Euler speculated that in the 1970’s, as computers became more prevalent, men who liked science and math started to pursue careers in technology. Many women who liked science and math wanted to use their knowledge help others, therefore a career in healthcare provided opportunity along with a good salary and job security.
She speculated that the numbers will stay where they are as there are more women in the workforce in general. Dr Euler also mentioned that although there are many more women in pharmacy, top corporate and academic positions are still mostly men. Therefore, the pharmacy profession looks very much like the workforce as a whole.
For National Women Pharmacist Day to be approved, Dr. Soliman sent a petition explaining the importance of the day to the National Day Calendar along with her article that was published recently in Pharmacy Times. I asked Dr. Soliman how she felt when she accomplished getting this day recognized, and she reiterated that this day is well-deserved—it is not just about her, but it is for women who have struggled for many years—women have done so much and been so successful working in all realms of pharmacy, from community to hospital to academia.
Dr. Soliman is currently working with professional organizations to promote National Women Pharmacist Day and make the inaugural first day well known. She is also looking for ideas on how to celebrate this day, so please reach out to Dr. Soliman with comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org