Diversity in the pharmacy

wheelchair disability diversity

Age, gender, race, sexuality or physical ability should not exclude an individual, but rather be seen as a valuable asset, writes Sam Flood

Like all millennials, I have been fortunate to grow up during a period of progressive thinking and universal acceptance regardless of someone’s differences.

Same-sex marriage has been legalised, indigenous Australians have greater representation in Parliament and the National Disability Insurance Scheme has eased the turmoil that can come with living with a disability.

While the vast majority of society will cruise through this incredible time of acceptance, tolerance and unification, there will always be minorities who are excluded or forgotten.

Australia is at the forefront of assuring equity for all and historically blatant biases are becoming increasingly obvious, but there are still gaps for minorities to fall through: recruitment and employability being a major one.

Currently I hold an intern position in a fantastic pharmacy in a city I love, but life wasn’t always this glamorous.

I was held back from acquiring an intern position for over a year because of my physical disability.

Graduating in 2016, I watched the rest of my cohort start their intern positions and carry on their journey to become a pharmacist while I continued to contact pharmacy after pharmacy, hoping that someone would take me on.

I cannot speak for every potential employer I contacted, as some were genuinely not in a position to take on an intern, but over time I noticed an unsettling trend of pharmacists backpedalling upon meeting me in person and rapidly looking for excuses to be “not looking for an intern this year,” or that suddenly the single step into the traditional dispensary had taken on Everest proportions.

Everyone can be guilty of profiling, myself included.

What I’ve learned not only from the past few years but over my entire life is that prejudices can be damaging, not only to an individual but society as a whole.

Does the applicant fulfil the successful criteria? Are those other preconceived attributes in your mind actually relevant? Does a pharmacist need to be completely ambulatory to deliver exemplary healthcare?

Does this person necessarily need to be a born leader? No. An excellent team player? Not necessarily.

Just because a person doesn’t fit the perfect cookie cutter mould doesn’t mean they won’t be a valuable asset to a workplace. You might realise that the perfect employee has been sitting right under your nose the entire time, but they weren’t considered past a short assessment.

From personal experience, I can say that a disabled person has a range of skills to bring to the table that an able-bodied person may not have.

A person who has lived with a disability for any significant period of their life will have developed the ability to adapt to new situations and environments rapidly to function as best they can.

This ability to adapt often comes with a different way of thinking that can be utilised as an innovative tool in any workplace.

One of the most dangerous sayings in any industry is “oh, but we’ve always done it that way.” Pharmacy as we know it is ever changing, and innovators in the industry are becoming increasingly important.

Age, gender, race, sexuality or physical ability should not exclude an individual, but rather be seen as a valuable asset.

During my childhood and adolescence, I spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals as I’m sure a lot of other people with a disability have.

This time is spent meeting specialists, conducting extensive (and sometimes excessive) tests, and meeting a lot of other kids and families going through similar if not more distressing experiences.

A person with a disability knows the patient experience more fluently than the average person.

This comes with an enhanced level of empathy with someone else who is going through a similar journey.

Pharmacists who have lived with diabetes or asthma are cherished for their understanding of living with a chronic condition; so why are the experiences of a person with a disability not seen for the unique and relevant perspective that it is?

By all means, don’t take from this that I’m a jaded person living with a disability (although anyone who knows me well will know I have my moments). 

There have absolutely been gems throughout my past 24 years; being accepted by a university who had no obligations to make the extensive accommodations for me that they did; the staff at Alcohol and Drug Services in Hobart where I volunteered while job hunting; my ever-supportive family and friends; and of course the support of staff at my current workplace.

Changing societal attitudes is not a quick fix, it’s going to take a long time to change the way everyone thinks.

I’m more than ready to admit I don’t have answers for everything, but if I can get one person to change the way they think from reading this, I’ll consider that a start.

Sam Flood is a pharmacy intern at Capital Chemist Coburg North in Victoria. He graduated from a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of Tasmania in December 2016.

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