I am black.
The first time I experienced overt prejudice and racism was in pharmacy.
I had been looking for work experience before starting my MPharm degree. The majority of the pharmacies declined my approaches. I was therefore very excited when a pharmacist at one branch of a multiple community pharmacy took in my CV. I also had a friend who dropped in her CV at the same branch.
I can still remember years later how the interaction with that particular pharmacist made me feel.
I felt that this pharmacist was very uncomfortable and did not seem happy to interact with me. I could not pinpoint why the interaction was off. All in all, he ended up offering my friend a two-week work experience placement.
I didn’t think much of it and simply put it down to timing as I remembered I had missed a phone call that was potentially from the pharmacist.
My friend, who was Asian, told me a few days into her work experience that she asked why I had not been given a placement. The pharmacist, who was also Asian, had told her he was glad that I did not pick up the phone as he did not want to have me as a work experience student. He had told her that he and his colleague were surprised that someone like me would want to be a pharmacist.
He said that people would not trust someone of my ethnic background as a pharmacist.
As someone who worked hard in school and had strongly believed in meritocracy, this was a shocking moment in my life.
During my degree and training, I have lost count of the number of times I have been made to feel like an anomaly because of my ethnicity. I have had experiences during placements where supervisors were surprised that I knew quite basic pharmacology. In contrast, I have also had experiences where I felt greater scrutiny over my academic ability over other students.
I feel there is some prejudice towards people who come from ethnic backgrounds that are not well represented within the pharmacy profession.
The messages that the General Pharmaceutical Council and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society send out highlighting lower pass rates for students of Black African heritage can be very damaging. This feeds into and confirms damaging stereotypes people have of Black African students.
We did not see the same scrutiny over the low pass rate for Pakistani students, even though students from this background are much greater in number in terms of student population.
This begs the question as to why we are focusing on a particular ethnic group and further depicting a narrative that can easily be misconstrued.
Rather we should be looking at the low entry requirements into the profession of pharmacy and why we have low performing pharmacy schools churning out students who are more likely to fail the pre-reg exam.
There are many black students, who like me, entered pharmacy with strong A-levels, achieved a First class degree from a top university and passed the pre-reg exam first time. It is very frustrating to constantly be stereotyped as having a lower academic ability.
These are the same challenges that Black students face throughout their academic journey from secondary school to higher education. Unfortunately, it is disappointing that we face similar prejudices in our professional lives.
The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous.
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