Pharmacy College Targets Minority High School Students in Summer Programs

The St. Louis College of Pharmacy ran two programs this summer geared toward minority high school students interested in pursuing a career in health care.

Jonathan Anderson, a participant in the Walgreens/St. Louis College of Pharmacy Career Explorers Program, said, “It was a great program. It was a life changing program for me.” Anderson is now a Walgreens pharmacist and a graduate of the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

Anderson added, “I was thinking about doing medicine, but I really wouldn’t have known anything about pharmacy or what a pharmacist did without the program.”

The Career Explorers Program is a collaboration between the St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Walgreens Pharmacy. Although geared toward minority students, the 20-day program accepts 25 rising juniors and seniors of all races and ethnicities.

Now in its 12th year, this program has students split their time between pharmacy-related classes at the college and at a local Walgreens working as pharmacy technicians and assistants to the pharmacists. At the end of the program, the students receive a stipend and are certified as pharmacy technicians.  

The other program is called the BESt Pharmacy Summer Institute. Named for the program’s partnership between Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Express Scripts and St. Louis College of Pharmacy, the program has just completed its fifth year.

This year, BESt accepted 52 local rising sophomores, juniors and seniors with multicultural backgrounds. Over a six-week period, these students took classes taught by college faculty members in math, science, English, and ACT/SAT preparation. The students received college credit for their classes, a stipend for their participation and are invited back to the program each summer until they graduate from high school. 

Jennifer Athay Adams, director of student affairs at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, explained: “These types of programs are absolutely vital. The effort to prepare the pipeline for the profession of pharmacy has to happen at the local level.”

Erin Meeker, Walgreens Pharmacy Campus Relations Manager, said: “The students have a tremendous opportunity to gain exposure to a profession they may not have thought about before.”

Kamara Cox, a graduate of the Career Explorers Program, is a great example. Cox said: “I was always interested in some kind of health career, but I didn’t know which one was right for me, but afterward I knew that pharmacy was for me.” She is now in her second year at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

Although minorities make up a third of the U.S. population, they earn only 12 percent of the total number of doctor of pharmacy degrees. Meeker said: “We’re seeing the U.S. become a more racially and ethnically diverse nation. As Walgreens pharmacists, we strive to deliver superior care to the patients in those communities that we live in and work in and we want to make sure that we are supporting ways for students that represent those ethnic minorities to enter the pharmacy professions.”

Freddie Wills, the St. Louis College of Pharmacy Director of Diversity, explained that the two programs offer great opportunities for addressing the minority underrepresentation in pharmacy.

He said: “These students are receiving the benefit of being in a classroom where kids look like them and are on the same level as they are academic wise.” He explained that, in the St. Louis area, it’s not often that African-American males have the opportunity to interact with other African-Americans in their age group with their interests and abilities.

According to Wills, stories like Jonathan’s and Kamara’s are not uncommon. All past participants in the BESt program were accepted into college, 93 percent pursued a degree in health care, and 65 percent pursued a career in pharmacy. Of the students that participated in the Career Explorers program, nearly 50 percent enrolled in a pharmacy school.