The pain, torment and humiliation of being a black pharmacist

 

I am black.

 

I recently moved to a new store in a rural area. I was the only black pharmacist there.

 

Some members of staff made it so obvious that I was black. Anytime I opened the conversation with them they never spoke to me. They would only speak to me when a patient needed me.

 

They would refer to me only because I was the pharmacist not because they wanted to talk to me as a person.

 

That hurt.

 

And when the second pharmacist, who was white, came in the atmosphere changed. All of a sudden there are checks, jobs that needed sorting out and this is all the important jobs handed over to the second pharmacist.

 

It felt like as a team member I was treated differently. The non-black pharmacist had priority in the conversation. The difference in terms of how the second pharmacist was treated compared to how I was treated was both subtle yet stark to me.

 

This example hopefully explains in some way why it is more difficult for black people to progress in their pharmacy careers.

 

I have always felt that I have to work twice as hard to be seen. It is twice as hard to be considered for promotion. It is twice as hard to be recognised by employers for delivering great care to patients.

 

It just feels like things are easier for white pharmacists. The white pharmacists I have worked with have had an invisible head start.

 

It is invisible but brutal if you are on the wrong, black side of this equation. I don’t want sympathy rather I just want to explain what I see, what I have experienced and how it feels.

 

It is mentally painful and emotionally draining being a black person working as a pharmacist. This has come to a head for me in the past when I have said something or made a decision that does not even get noticed. On many occasions, I have made decisions that are ignored and then been overruled when the white pharmacist, or even white team members, I am working with sweep in and take over.

 

As a black pharmacist, it is difficult to be seen and heard even if I am the responsible pharmacist.

 

I have experienced many non-black pharmacists coming in to make the same decision as I did and seen the team all become animated about what has been said. The compliments come and the team all act relieved and amazed because the white pharmacist made such a great decision.

 

This hurts and it is humiliating.

 

On these occasions, I feel invisible. I have even wondered if I did the same MPharm qualification or if I picked my degree up on the street. It got to the point where I realised I was mentally exhausted.

 

The cumulative nature of these encounters has made me feel depressed. I kept thinking about work or having to go to work and feel sad.

 

I often doubt my own ability as a pharmacist and also doubt my professional judgement. I now hate going to work. I felt that I did not have any control over the pharmacy. It was just a case of having my name on the wall so that it is legal for the pharmacy to open. I often don’t feel in control or responsible at all for any activity going on in the pharmacy.

 

This really scares the life out of me. I was constantly scared that if anything was to happen it was my name on the line and I was responsible. This stress comes from the feeling that I was very much an invisible team member in that pharmacy.

 

I have to prove every day that I know what I am doing. I have to prove that I have the same knowledge as any other pharmacist. I regularly have my decisions questioned over and over again or worse the accuracy checking technician would override my decisions.

 

The judgement of white pharmacists is never questioned when they are working and no-one would dare to override these decisions. When I try to speak up I am labelled as being rude, having a bad attitude and I have been told I need to learn to build relationships with the team.

 

I’m so sorry to sound so negative but this really makes me feel hopeless both personally and professionally.

 

I want white people in pharmacy to understand that they can help. People like me need their support in pharmacy.

 

White pharmacist colleagues have the power to call out this behaviour. Any behaviour that segregates or discriminates against their fellow non-white pharmacist needs to be addressed preferably in the moment.

 

For white people to better understand racism they should start by looking at who holds the top jobs in the companies they work for. In the areas, they work in how many black pharmacist hold positions they hold? If it took them 5 years to get to that position is there a fellow back person in that same position? And did it take them the same number of years to get there?

 

Racism hurts deep down, in a spot or place within your soul, heart and it is difficult to try and explain how it feels. It is also hard to get white people to understand something they have never experienced.

 

It is like a never-ending war that you have to self talk yourself through every day. Just so you can face the day and do what needs to be done.

 

The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous.

 

Pharmacy in Practice will be covering this topic in the coming months. If you have a story to tell please get in touch by filling in the form below. 

 

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PIP editor

A pharmacist led training provider.

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