Written By: Joey Mattingly, PharmD, MBA, Assistant Professor in PPS
UMB’s University Student Government Association recently hosted an interprofessional panel discussion focused on the topic of social justice. As an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science (PPS) at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, I was invited by the event organizer to join the panel and share my thoughts about my profession’s role in creating a more just and equitable society.
Thoughts of My Grandmother
My first experience with the concept of social justice came in my pre-teen years. I was raised in rural Kentucky in a household that, for lack of a better term, was poor. When my grandmother’s health started to rapidly decline, I vividly remember my family struggling to come up with the co-payments for her monthly medications. The medications helped relieve that suffering, but at a substantial cost for a family that was underinsured. As I grew older and began to learn more about economics, business strategy, and pharmacy, I started to realize that the free-market framework had severe flaws when applied to sick people, and this slowly shifted my career focus to studying and teaching the business side of pharmacy.
Pharmacists are the most accessible health care professionals. You can walk into any retail pharmacy without an appointment and ask to speak with a pharmacist at any time. These well-trained medication experts are available to provide valuable pharmaceutical information that can “equal the playing field” in a society that is bombarded with direct-to-consumer marketing and misinformation. In one study from the University of Chicago, researchers discovered that pharmacists and other expert consumers are more likely to buy a generic over-the-counter headache reliever when compared to the average consumer, which demonstrates the power of marketing in influencing patient choices when available experts could recommend more cost-effective options.
Advocates for Our Patients
I left the social justice panel with a plea that, as clinicians, we must be better advocates for our patients. As students and as practitioners, we often are encouraged to get involved in professional organizations that promote policies and advocate for changes that will help our special interests. While these efforts are important, we must not forget that our patients need us to help advocate on their behalf as well. We must use our expertise and training to advance causes that will benefit our patients first.
My grandmother passed away before I had the skills and knowledge to advocate for her, but her memory serves as a reminder of why I chose to be a pharmacist and how I can leverage my skills as a medication expert to advance social justice in pharmaceutical care.