Strategies to Increase Under-represented Minorities in Pharmacy Education Take Time to Yield Results

Even targeted recruitment, retention, and development of underrepresented minorities in pharmacy education may show mixed results in the short term

Reviewed by Penny Sun


From 2007-2012, the Office of Recruitment, Development, and Diversity Initiatives (ORDDI) at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy conducted various integrated recruitment events to diversify the student body of their school. Students who participated in these ORDDI events were considered part of the “ORDDI cohort”.

After implementing these programming changes, ORDDI reported that about 30% of admitted students each year between 2007 to 2012 had participated in their programming. 80% of prospective students who participated in their programming and applied were admitted, but less than 40% of these prospective students came from minority backgrounds. However, among admitted students, there were significantly more Black students among the ORDDI cohort than the general student body. Still, although the average percent of White students at the school decreased almost 10% after implementation of ORDDI and the average percent of minority students increased by 6%, the majority of that increase was found among Asian American students–who are, as a group, well-represented in higher education–and among students identifying as other or unknown.

A diverse health workforce, including among pharmacists, is important to enhance trust between providers and patients. This is especially true because racial demographics are shifting in the US towards a majority minority composition, and minority populations already receive less healthcare and feel less satisfied by the quality of healthcare they receive. Intentional efforts to recruit, retain, and develop underrepresented minorities to enroll and succeed in pharmacy education is crucial to diversifying the workforce. 

The authors were all affiliated with the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, and the first author has gone on to become a dean at the school.

Methods and Findings

The ORDDI began its work in 2007 by defining 8 strategic goals related to leadership and accountability, targeting recruitment efforts and creation of a pipeline, and connecting current students with prospective students. Specifically, ORDDI programs included:

  • entrance test prep for prospective students, 
  • leadership and mentorship programs to connect current students with prospective ones, 
  • opportunities to introduce pharmacy careers to more students and to strengthen the pipeline of high school and undergraduate students interested in pharmacy careers
  • educating high school administrators and teachers about pharmacy education and careers so they can educate their students, 
  • creation of new external communications, 
  • professional development events to retain engaged students.

Primary findings:

  • Over 6 years, the ORDDI facilitated 812 recruitment events, and 80% of students who participated in ORDDI events (the ORDDI cohort) and applied to UNC Eshelman were admitted. 
  • On average, the ORDDI cohort represented between 22-39% of all admitted students in a year and 20-56% of the ORDDI cohort were from minority backgrounds. 
  • The ORDDI cohort contained about 11% more Black students than the student body as a whole and 80% of Black students interfaced with the ORDDI. 
  • However, although the average percent of White students dropped from 79% to 68% of the student body since ORDDI began recruitment, the average percent of Black students (7% to 6%), Indigenous students (<1% to <1%), and Latinx students (1% to 2%) stayed largely the same, with only the Asian/Pacific Islander (10% to 16%) and Other/Unknown (2% to 8%) student populations increasing. 
  • All together, this represents an increase from 19% minority to 25% minority students, but only when counting Asian American students, who as a whole are not underrepresented in higher education.


The authors recommend centralizing recruitment efforts, in order to maximize the efficiency of personnel and the intensity of efforts. They point to the need for committed resources, including infrastructure, leadership, accountability, and vision, to improve diversity and inclusion of underrepresented students. In the short term, their results were mixed in increasing the recruitment, admission, and retention of students from under-represented backgrounds, particularly for Black students. Thus, the authors acknowledge that this type of recruitment effort takes time and continued effort. However, the high level of engagement with ORDDI activities and staff among Black students point to the additional intangible benefits that students derive from having dedicated resources for diversity, inclusion, and belonging on campus.


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