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A World of Difference: A Pharmacist’s Perspective on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Neurocritical Care

By Currents Editor posted 03-07-2022 13:52

  

Sarah Jung, PharmD, MS, BCCCP
Wellstar Kennestone Hospital; Marietta, Georgia

The rise of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was also accompanied by the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 70% of the largest cities in the US grew more racially and ethnically diverse between 2010 to 2020.1 We have seen these changes within our patient populations too. Being “woke” to cultural differences and sensitivities is not only expected now, but there is also demand for education on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) especially within the workplace setting. 

By definition, diversity is the condition of being composed of differing elements or qualities.2 Diversity is not just limited to demographics like gender and race but also applies to ideas and character qualities. Neurocritical care teams rely on multiple provider groups and specialties to come together and create a cohesive neurocritical care unit (NCCU). Physicians (e.g. intensivists, neurosurgeons, vascular neurologists), advanced practice providers (APPs), nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, dieticians, speech-language pathologists, and social workers are all essential members of our NCCU who collaborate to optimize patients’ care each day. Our 11-hospital health system covers an expansive catchment area across metro Atlanta and North Georgia. As such, we serve communities of multiple ethnic backgrounds, and they are reflected in the diversity of our team. Our neurocritical care group includes those of Asian, Black, Hispanic, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian descent. We celebrate these differences and try to recognize diversity in our patients as well.

While the majority of practicing pharmacists are White and working in the retail pharmacy sector, I am a Korean-American woman working in a hospital.3 Similar to the change in demographics of major cities, the field of pharmacy increased the number of non-White pharmacists and is now predominantly female.3,4 As the neurocritical care pharmacist for our health system, I have a unique opportunity to work with a multi-disciplinary group of providers. Providing pharmacotherapy recommendations is a large part of my job, but I aim for my contributions to extend beyond my clinical role. Collaborating on quality improvement projects, optimizing policies and protocols, and providing educational sessions with physicians, APPs, and nurses has fostered a culture of mutual learning and respect. These interactions also create awareness of clinical pharmacy in general. I also enjoy promoting my Korean heritage by sharing photos of travel on social media, bringing in traditional desserts for Korean Thanksgiving, discussing a novel about Korean characters in book club, and chatting about plot twists on the latest Korean TV shows. By doing so, I strive to be identified not only as a presence on multi-disciplinary rounds but also as a representative for the Korean-American community.

Photo: Chuseok, also known as Korean Thanksgiving, celebrates the harvest season with many traditional foods. Shown above is songpyeon, a type of rice cake, that is typically associated with this holiday.

Stereotypically, Asian women are seen as quiet, small, submissive, and hardworking as part of the “Model Minority.” Even though I was born in the US, I actively fight against these stereotypes so much so that it has become a part of my personality. I speak up to ensure I will be heard; I practice holding power poses so I don’t feel small; I respectfully stand my ground when I disagree with someone; and I seek out leadership opportunities. Despite my endeavors and working in the niche of neurocritical care pharmacy, I am often mistaken for other Asian females in my workplace. At first, this seemed harmless and funny. But as it continued, I felt as though my presence and contributions were unrecognized and expendable. Although I have not identified a meaningful intervention to address this form of racism, it has not hindered my ability to form new relationships. I am hopeful that my work and its impact will distinguish me as an individual and not just another Asian female.

Looking forward, it is inspiring to see that there is increased advocacy and dedication to broader DEI implementation. Providing the best care for our patients should encompass diversity in the care team as it will enhance creativity and perspective, reduce health disparities, improve communication, and increase patient trust.5 Diversity cannot be forced. Rather, it is dynamic and has different scopes depending on the setting. I believe that recognizing differences and individual qualities is only one part of the equation; promoting one’s own diverseness should also be encouraged and normalized. 

References

  1. McPhillips, D. (2020, January). A New Analysis Finds Growing Diversity in U.S. Cities. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.usnews.com/news/cities/articles/2020-01-22/americas-cities-are-becoming-more-diverse-new-analysis-shows
  2. “Diversity Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diversity.
  3. “Pharmacists.” Data USA, https://datausa.io/profile/soc/pharmacists#demographics.
  4. Ly DP, Jena AB. “Trends in Diversity and Representation of Health Care Workers in the United States, 2000 to 2019.” JAMA Netw Open 2021;4(7): e2117086. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.17086 
  5. University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. (2021, March). Cultural diversity in Healthcare: USAHS. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://www.usa.edu/blog/diversity-in-healthcare/

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