VCU pharmacy school raises the bar in inclusive excellence

April 26, 2016

By Trevon Straughter, intern
University Public Affairs


Hanging front and center in the lobby of the School of Pharmacy’s Smith Building at Virginia Commonwealth University is a poster. It contains a forthright statement signed by the school’s constituents:

“We, the students, faculty and staff of the School of Pharmacy, reaffirm our commitment to VCU values of diversity and a climate of inclusion, to addressing disparities where they exist, and to promoting an environment of trust.”

The statement builds upon one of the core values of the pharmacy school, and the poster serves as a daily reminder that the school will continue its efforts to promote inclusive excellence and diversity within the school and throughout the profession.

Dean Joseph T. DiPiro and a team of Pharm.D. students brainstormed the idea to display the poster and encouraged students and employees to sign it.

“[The poster] is a powerful symbol,” said DiPiro. “It’s visible and is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment. Symbols are important, and we need more substantive actions behind them.”

Arzo Hamidi, a member of the MCV Campus Graduate Student Programming Board, is one of the student leaders who helped to craft the idea. “It means a lot to many of us students knowing that we have such a strong support system with our faculty and staff.”

The school, established in 1898, has long been a pioneer and a leader in the pharmacy community. The school’s ability to serve the broader community while recognizing the individual health needs of each subgroup has become increasingly important over the past few years.

“We must have this kind of thinking that’s definitive and embedded within the curriculum and training throughout our programs.” DiPiro noted.  “Because pharmacists work so closely with all groups of people, it’s essential for their environment to represent the landscape in which they will be working.”

One way the school has dedicated itself to providing students opportunities to serve underprivileged and underrepresented populations is by working with community organizations such as The Daily Planet, CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, Richmond Health and Wellness Program and Richmond Area Compassionate Care Pharmacy.

Providing instructors who share in the role of diversity and inclusive teaching and learning practices is as important as providing access to the community via service learning and real patient experience.

“We are working to increase the diversity of our staff and faculty by enriching our recruitment skills,” DiPiro said. “Our role as faculty and staff is critical in our students’ development, and we need a team that is representative.”

DiPiro also noted diversity-related issues pharmacists face in the general community and challenged students to recognize the power they have to effect change as thought-leaders and influencers. To that end, the dean’s office, in conjunction with the VCU chapter of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association, recently organized an open discussion forum titled “Voices: Minorities in Health Career Professions.”

The forum featured six African-American panelists (four of whom are School of Pharmacy alumni) discussing their views on diversity, inclusion and how they have succeeded when faced with adversity.

Nigerian-American panelist and VCU Health pharmacist Toyin Oyefuga gave this advice: “Don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back. Your skin color and your differences are always going to be an issue ... I’m Nigerian and I have an accent; I thought they will never want me … face your fears!”

Leonard Edloe, a retired pharmacist who now serves as vice president of the American Pharmacists Association Foundation’s board of directors, said,  “Look around and see who’s around you. If everyone looks the same, you have a problem. If you don’t understand people’s culture, or their perspective,” he continued, “you have a problem.”

More than 50 students attended the event. Hamidi felt it was a good reminder about her role as a pharmacist.

“Each panelist's achievements serve as motivation to me, as a woman, as a minority, as an immigrant, and most importantly, as a future health care provider,” she said. “I was reminded that at the end of the day, I am serving patients and should not let any biases, any discrimination or other adversities come in the way of me doing my job wholeheartedly.”

To inform and empower students and maintain a focus on inclusive excellence, more open discussions are in the planning stages. The second offering in the “Voices” series brought in three pharmacy students, an alumna and a faculty member, as well as a School of Medicine faculty member, to discuss their experiences as part of the Muslim community.

“My religion shapes how I deal with my patients every day,” noted alumna panelist Uzma Khan, who completed her Pharm.D. degree last year. Imad Damaj, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology, encouraged faculty to get to know all their international students on a personal level. “Be intentional about it,” he said.

Having a personal commitment to diversity and inclusion means having a commitment to listening and then understanding.” DiPiro said. “To be inclusively excellent, we have to listen, learn and understand; we have to find our blind spots, the things that influence our behavior from the background, address those inherent biases and look for new opportunities to heal and communicate.”


About VCU School of Pharmacy

VCU School of Pharmacy has been a pioneer in pharmacy care and education since 1898. The school is at the scientific forefront in pharmacy, pharmaceutics and medicinal chemistry education and research. The school’s location within the VCU Medical Center offers students and faculty tremendous opportunities in interprofessional collaboration. The school has committed to developing progressive models of pharmacy practice while maintaining the foundational pharmaceutical sciences. For more information, visit