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The university schooling its students on equality, diversity and inclusion

Kingston University’s immersive approach to learning inspires students to look below the surface and treat every patient as an individual – landing it a sought-after C+D Award

A lot of organisations like to talk up their work in equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). But while few would question the importance of a commitment to these values, many fail to prove themselves beyond making a few token gestures. This couldn’t be further from the case at Kingston University's school of pharmacy, which is proudly walking the walk.

Students on this forward-thinking MPharm course are trained to be truly inclusive practitioners. A series of diversity workshops that run throughout students’ first three years of studying exposes them to the lived experiences of a diverse range of people, from disabled pharmacists to people from the LGBTQ community.

Read more: The family-run pharmacy that’s been dispensing wisdom for over 40 years

The result? Compassionate pharmacy students who have been trained to take a holistic approach to their patients during each step of their learning journey. The university’s dedication to fostering these important values impressed the judges at the C+D Awards 2023, who said: “More schools of pharmacy should follow in its footsteps.” In a highly competitive category,  Kingston walked away with the Diversity and Inclusion award at a prestigious prizegiving ceremony in central London last September.

Dipa Kamdar is a teaching fellow in pharmacy practice and course director for pharmacy at Kingston University. Over a video call, she tells C+D that the curriculum's focus on EDI is reflective of the diverse student body. “If you look at our demographics, especially of our pharmacy students, it’s quite a lot of ethnic minority students – except they’re not really a minority in the pharmacy department,” she says. But, for her, more had to be done to make sure the department was truly inclusive. “Yes, you’ve got a lot of different people in this community, but do they all feel like they belong?” she says.

 

The importance of lived experience

 

When the opportunity came up to lead the school of pharmacy’s EDI strategy, Dipa jumped at the chance. Part of this was inviting guest speakers to talk to students about LGBTQ issues in healthcare. These workshops were initially rolled out for third-year students, but subsequently “spiralled down” to those in their second year so that these “hard-hitting” issues could be brought to the fore as soon as possible. “That really shone a light on the issues around transgender care and their access to services and our students found that really fascinating,” says Dipa.

Read more: Attention UK Pharmacy! Reward yourself at the C+D Awards. You deserve it

The success of these talks sparked a series of other inclusivity workshops, with people from a range of backgrounds invited to speak about their own experiences. This included a former student with disabilities, as well as Dipa sharing her own experiences of ethnic disparities in maternal health. “It was my own personal story, which was not very nice, and they were very shocked to hear about what had happened,” she says. “We wrote real-life, authentic case studies and the students loved it. We did small group tutorials with them and they loved talking about it.”

Dame Elizabeth Anionwu opens Kingston University's hospital ward simulation suite. Picture credit: Kingston University

While students were aware in theory that such health inequalities are still in place today, they noticed that the issues “hit closer to home” when they heard people recounting their personal experiences, says Dipa. “I feel like that’s been really effective - to develop that compassion in them a bit more and those empathetic skills that maybe are a little bit abstract for students,” she adds.

 

“Live and let live”

 

Equality has always been important to Dipa. She credits her family for this, who instilled in her from a child the belief that girls and boys should be given the same opportunities. “I’ve always felt, why can’t we all just be kind to each other and treat each other with respect and dignity?” she says. Although she accepts that some people’s cultural or religious background could make it harder for them to get on board with LGBTQ issues, for example, she believes it is imperative that everyone is treated with dignity and respect – regardless of who they are. As she puts it: “As long as no one’s harming anyone else, just live and let live. That’s the underlying ethos that I live by.”

Unfortunately, not everybody has the same attitude and inequality or discrimination can creep into every aspect of life, whether or not this is intentional. “Health inequalities are everywhere,” says Dipa. “People in general – not even just pharmacists – aren’t really aware of them.” But she believes the COVID-19 pandemic – during which the newspapers were awash with stories of ethnic minorities and people with disabilities dying at a higher rate – and the start of the Black Lives Matter movement in summer 2020 helped to “open the floodgates” and bring these issues to the fore. “Hopefully [now] pharmacists are a little bit more enlightened about what’s going on,” she says.

Read more: C+D Awards 2024 are now open for entries - with a heroic new category

In any case, this will certainly be true of the pharmacists currently training at Kingston. Dipa points out that embedding EDI in the curriculum is especially important because students aren’t necessarily used to having to take these issues into account. She says: “This is stuff they don’t generally think about. There’s so much learning to do and knowledge to acquire because pharmacy is changing and they want to know about symptoms and disease treatment but, actually, they don’t always think about the other nuances to this.”

She gives the example of a person coming into a community pharmacy with a cold. While the textbook recommendation might be standard cold and flu tablets, she says that not everybody may be comfortable with westernised medicine and may be content with other traditional remedies, which students should take into account. She says: “It’s got them to think outside the box and about the impact they’re having on that person. I hope it’s really improved their person-centered care because before it was very didactic but now it’s much more of a collaboration”. And with a simulation hospital ward simulation suite – opened by Dame Elizabeth Anionwu last year – and a simulation community pharmacy on its way, students have the opportunity to put their learnings into practice.

Read more: Little effort to close black/white trainee ‘attainment gap’, report warns

As Dipa speaks about her award-winning university department, it’s clear to see that she is genuinely passionate about EDI and its positive impact on everybody, no matter their background. With such an inspirational team teaching the pharmacists of tomorrow, it seems as though the next generation of pharmacists will take these issues into account as a matter of course. As the UK becomes more diverse and issues around race, gender, sexuality and disability are discussed more widely, this can surely only be a good thing for patients.

But with typical modesty, Dipa says she was “shocked” that Kingston bagged their C+D Award. “We felt good about it but we didn’t think we were going to win – especially when we saw some of the nominees up there. We thought, oh we’ll just go and have fun,” she explains. “When we heard our name, I was in complete shock. We’ve done a lot of work in this field, so it’s so nice to be recognised nationally.”

So does she recommend that other pharmacy professionals submit an entry for the upcoming C+D Awards 2024? Absolutely. She advises: “It's definitely worth submitting an entry if you’ve got something worthy to submit.”

 

The C+D Awards 2024 will take place at The Brewery in London on September 19. Could you or one of your colleagues be crowned as a C+D Award winner? Check out all the categories for the 2024 awards and enter today.

 

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