Working to Increase Minority Representation in Pharmacy and Provide Care to Underserved Communities

Marvin M. Agyeben, PharmD Candidate

Pharmacy Careers, Spring 2021, Volume 15, Issue 1

Like most of us who pursue a career in health care, I want to help as many people as I can. I also want to continue to advocate for underrepresented minorities who would like a career in the field.

I'll never forget the summer of 2016. During a 3-month break from college, my focus for many weeks was supporting my dad, who had suffered a stroke. My dad had never loved going to the doctor, partly from many years of medical distrust between the Black community and health care practitioners, so I could only imagine what his thoughts were during this crisis. However, some good did come out of this situation.

My dad was properly cared for and was allowed to go home, and I became passionately driven to pursue a career in pharmacy after seeing how pharmacists managed my dad's health issues. But that unfortunate trip to the hospital, along with other visits and experiences at various health care sites, made me realize there weren't too many people who look like my dad and me practicing pharmacy.

In my pharmacy class, which has upwards of 150 students, I am 1 of 3 Black students and the only Black male. Even during my exposure to various health care sites in the Chicagoland area, I rarely see any Black or minority pharmacists of under-represented ethnic backgrounds. This lack of diversity and inclusion has always worried me. Why aren't there more Black and minority individuals in pharmacy? What more can I do to help minority populations with my resources as a pharmacy student?

After pondering these questions, I decided I wanted to work on meaningful projects that would provide solutions to this problem. The first project came at the very start of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In Chicago and around the country, civil unrest was simultaneously taking place as a result of the death of George Floyd. Many Chicagoans in areas heavily affected by the pandemic and civil unrest found themselves unable to go to the store and get essential groceries, personal protective equipment, or even school supplies for their children. With the help of my classmates and mentors, we were able to provide these materials to families, churches, and schools in need. That's when it dawned on me: These are the meaningful projects and impacts I've wanted to make.

Since then, I have been able to help create an educational platform to inform minority communities about the available COVID-19 vaccines, so that those who are being disproportionately affected by the virus are more inclined to get vaccinated. One of my proudest projects has been working to create a scholarship intended for students of underrepresented minority backgrounds—Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Native American, and Native Hawaiian and/or Pacific Islander—to help them attend and afford pharmacy school.

I'm a son of 2 immigrant parents, both from Ghana, and we have had an uphill struggle when dealing with finances and finding helpful resources. So working toward reaching our goals in life has always been a lot harder for us than it has been for others in the United States. Being able to work on a scholarship that I knew could ease some of the weight associated with going into a professional school for a career and to give back to someone has been very valuable. I am still working on bringing this scholarship to life, and my goal is to one day award it to many different minority students who want to have a career in pharmacy, and do my part in diversifying this profession that is already giving so much back to me.

I will be starting my fourth year advanced pharmacy practice experience rotations shortly and have already come so far after 3 years of finishing up my didactic education. Pharmacy school has been a grind, but it has also given me so much opportunity and insight into the impact I want to make within the walls of my campus and the communities in my neighborhood.

Like most of us who pursue a career in health care, I want to help as many people as I can. I also want to continue to advocate for underrepresented minorities who would like a career in the field, especially a career in pharmacy where diversity is a real need. I want to keep lifting up minority communities, and provide a reason to dispel medical distrust between many minority patients and health care providers. I want to make a real difference in someone's life the way the pharmacists did for my dad when he was in the hospital. These may seem like tall goals, but thanks to pharmacy school and the individuals I've met along the way, they've turned into my calling.

About the Author

Marvin M. Agyeben is a 2022 PharmD candidate at Midwestern University College of Pharmacy in Downers Grove, Illinois, where he is vice president of the Underserved Medicine Club and is active in other campus organizations.

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