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Making the pharmacy experience for Black Nova Scotians more inclusive

Afomia Gebre. Contributed

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A residency project by a Dalhousie University graduate is exploring ways to improve the pharmacy experience for Black Nova Scotians.

The project seeks Black Nova Scotians aged 18 and older to participate in either a focus group or a one-on-one interview to discuss their interactions with community pharmacists.

Afomia Gebre graduated in 2020 from the College of Pharmacy before pursuing a residency with Nova Scotia Health that would allow her to work as a pharmacist in hospitals.

Gebre, who calls her residency project a “no-brainer”, believes you can’t be a good practitioner if you fail to connect, understand, and empathize with your patients on a cultural level.

“Right now pharmacists are beginning to expand their scope in terms of what they’re able to do,” Gebre said. “We’re seeing that we can prescribe more, we are doing injections, so we’re playing a very pivotal role in the rollout of the COVID vaccine. A pharmacist has a lot of knowledge in terms of what they’re able to do and the services they’re able to provide.” 

She says as a pharmacist’s scope of duties expands, it’s important to make sure clients are receiving holistic, patient-centred, and culturally safe care.

Gebre’s family immigrated to Canada from Ethiopia when she was still a child. Navigating the health care system in a second language proved to be challenging for Gebre’s family, who often faced racism and ignorance in pharmacies and doctors offices. 

It wasn’t until Gebre was in the eighth grade that she saw a Black pharmacist for the first time. 

Gebre knew at that moment, she wanted to be on the other side of the counter. 

“There’s not a lot of representation in the field but having that exposure to the Black pharmacist really changed my perspective and made me realize that it was something that I could achieve,” Gebre said.

The pharmacy sector in Nova Scotia continues to be very white-centric, Gebre says, adding she was only one of two Black students in her graduating class. 

“Historically health has been the most segregated area in terms of our society and so we’ve already seen that Black patients have had poor health outcomes,” Gebre said. 

The lack of representation and diversity in the province’s health care system presents a ripple effect of ramifications for Black Nova Scotians.

“We have an existing health equity gap, and anyone who works within healthcare has a responsibility to mobilize towards closing it,” Gebre said. “One of the most effective ways that we can do it is by hearing from the communities that are most affected by it, and then by having these conversations, we can see where our shortcomings are.”

See also:  Dr. OmiSoore Dryden: Why would African Nova Scotians trust the health system?

Gebre’s residency ends in September. She hopes the findings from her project are released by the end of 2021. 

Gebre hopes her published findings mobilize more research on navigating pharmacy settings for Black Nova Scotians. Gebre hopes her work can spark a conversation about culturally competent care. 

“As pharmacists, if we aren’t in these communities, and we are not serving our patients appropriately, then we are also contributing to worse health outcomes for Black patients,” she said. 

See also: “We set a precedent for the world”– How the African Nova Scotian community mobilized against the pandemic

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