BALTIMORE – The lobby of the beige brick building on Pine Street is alive with color: showy African gowns printed in gold, black, red and green vie for prominence with embroidered Mexican blouses and Brazilian soccer jerseys in blinding yellow.
At the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s annual International Feast, the air is spiced with exotic scents and filled with mingling voices in accented English.
The room presents a tableau of what the profession of pharmacy looks like in 2006. An influx of women and people of color into the profession have been steadily changing the face of the pharmacist behind the counter for 20 years or more.
The change is evident from top to bottom, from pharmacy schools like the University of Maryland’s here to the large chain or grocery store pharmacies that now dominate the market.
“It was amazing to me that we had a very broad spectrum of individuals: male and female but also Asians, Indians, Pakistanis…” said Russell Fair, vice president of pharmacy operations for Giant Food stores, who has worked in Giant’s pharmacy division for 30 years.
According to a Maryland Board of Pharmacy database, more than half of the pharmacists licensed in the state in 2006 have surnames that appear to be African, Asian, Hispanic or Middle Eastern, compared with around 30 percent in 1986, and only 3 percent in 1966.
It has also become “a very popular profession for women,” said Dr. Gary Smith, a University of Maryland pharmacy professor. It has been two years since women overtook men as a majority in the profession, a trend reflected in large chains like the Landover-based Giant.
“We have more female pharmacy managers than males now,” said Fair. And the jobs they get are fairly well paid. The average salary for a licensed pharmacist is $85,000 to $100,000 per year.
The demographic overhaul began late last century at the nation’s pharmacy schools.
In 1985, people of color and international students made up just 25 percent of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. By 2005, that number jumped to 48 percent, which is still a little below the national average.
Female students have maintained a 60-percent or higher majority at UMB Pharmacy for at least 20 years, their numbers seeing rapid growth in the 1970s and 80s.
“It was very eye-opening to see all the diversity,” said Chanel Agness, a professor and student advisor at Maryland. Agness, who came to Maryland just under a year ago, is a New York native who earned her doctorate of pharmacy at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Student diversity at Rutgers was “not great,” Agness said.
Increased diversity seems to play a role in a pharmacy school’s success. The schools of pharmacy ranked first and second in the nation by U.S. News & World Report boast non-white majorities in their doctor of pharmacy programs. UMB, with just under half non-white majority, is ranked at number eight.
In the 1960s and 70s, the goal of most people who went to pharmacy school was to open a neighborhood store, said Dr. Carol Stevenson, who works with NeighborCare in Parkville.
Stevenson herself was a bit of an anomaly when she entered pharmacy school in 1965. One of five women in a 65-person class at the University of Kansas, she said that apart from the few female students, plus one Filipino man and one Malawian, the rest were white males.
If they chose to work at all, Stevenson said, female pharmacists by and large took part time positions in stores run by men.
Most of those neighborhood pharmacies are now gone, but Russell Fair of Giant Foods noted that most pharmacists were male when Giant opened its first pharmacy in 1962.
Stevenson went on to work in hospitals for a time, then in chain pharmacies like NeighborCare. When Maryland mandated that prospective pharmacists have doctorate-level training, Stevenson returned to school at UMB, working part-time toward her Pharm.D., which she earned in 2001.
First-year student Shirley Lee, a first-generation American of Chinese descent, said she is amazed by the possibilities open to her. Lee came into the program wanting to work in hospitals, but said she is actively looking at all of the options, including laboratory or government work.
Lee also has the advantage of being bilingual, having grown up speaking both English and Chinese in her San Francisco home. Some students in the program learned English as a second or third language, and the communication skills required of pharmacists can sometimes be a challenge when they reach the U.S.
However, Dr. Cynthia Boyle, director of experiential learning at the school of pharmacy, says language is rarely a problem among accepted students.
“We take communications seriously in our education plan,” said Boyle. “It’s part of the process. Everyone has in-person interviews with faculty and staff.”
To get into any pharmacy school, students must also pass the Pharmacy College Admission Test, which includes writing and reading comprehension sections.
“People used to think that they didn’t want to talk to ‘that foreign person,’ but that’s going away,” said Stevenson.
According to Dr. Boyle, though, what makes a good pharmacist goes beyond gender or race. “It’s…definitely life experience that makes them better pharmacists,” she said.
All students who come to the University of Maryland’s doctor of pharmacy program have undergraduate degrees, and many of them have professional degrees. Students in their final year at Maryland do “rotations” just like medical interns, working alternately at community pharmacies, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, the Food and Drug Administration and more.
Employers emphasize training, not race or gender, said Dr. Smith, who has taught at the University of Maryland for nearly 10 years. “It doesn’t matter what your ethnic background is,” said Smith. “You just respect them for who they are.” – 30 – – 12072006