Even before being accepted into pharmacy school, I knew I wanted to be a pharmacist because I wanted to do work in health equity. My first experience recognizing the impact of health inequities on communities was when I was an intern at the Southtown Walmart Pharmacy in my hometown of Fort Wayne, IN. Within a few weeks, I noticed the barriers patients faced when accessing the healthcare system, and I began to question how these barriers contributed to health disparities. When I realized that my patients' census tract life expectancy was 15 years less than the census tract I grew up in, I was shocked. I couldn't understand why this information was readily available (thanks to the CDC), yet no one was doing anything about it. I couldn't comprehend why we talked about health disparities without a sense of urgency when everyday numerous patients were being impacted. This sense of purpose led me to join the CHEqI Student Advisory Board (SAB).
One of the most formative experiences as an SAB member has been participating in health equity-related research. My research partner, Sarah Vas, and I, along with faculty members Rakhi Karwa and Monica Miller, have successfully completed and are in the process of publishing our research, " Health Equity Language within Residency Training Promotional Content". The research idea came from pharmacy students participating in the residency preparatory class who wrote about their interest in working with under-resourced patient populations. We wanted to know if students could properly identify residency programs that met this interest area and how they specified that in their promotional content. To investigate this, we randomly selected 20% of first-year pharmacy residency programs across all 50 states. We analyzed each programs’ residency information and institutional mission, vision, and values for health equity and social determinants of health (SDOH) related language. Unsurprisingly, many programs had health equity and SDOH language in their institutional content, but little to none in their residency program content. Through this research, we revealed potential gaps in students’ identification of programs that meet their interest areas.
While this has been an amazing experience that has given me applicable skills, such as data analysis and technical writing, one of the most impactful aspects of this project has been how it has encouraged me to ask more of my future training program. It was disappointing to see how many health systems value diversity, equity, and inclusion but how little the residency program aligns with those values. I want an institution that is not only vocal about their values but is also dedicated enough to have initiatives that make those values actionable. I want to be at an organization that recognizes the influence the SDOH have on health outcomes and is actively working to address them.
CHEqI has shown me that simply saying I care about health equity does not equate health equity work. Health equity work is tedious, uncomfortable, and, above all, actionable. It asks us to put down our wants for the needs of those it serves. It requires us to remain committed and insistent on doing the work because complacency is a luxury some do not have. It calls us to use our privilege as a responsibility to continue to pursue a more equitable and inclusive health care system. Because I have learned this, I am committed to finding an institution that values health equity equally as much as I do and is willing to invest in the initiatives needed to make a difference.
Jessica Schowe | PharmD Candidate 2023