With the prestigious HEED Award, the School sets a standard for inclusive education
By Maren Stewart
Pharmacists, as the most accessible health professionals, serve all communities and patient populations — all ages, socioeconomic statuses, races, ethnicities, religions, genders, and more. To best serve each patient, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are intrinsic to healthcare.
In recognition of the importance of DEI in patient care and outcomes, the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy has implemented multifarious initiatives aimed at fostering a diverse and inclusive educational environment.
Now, the School’s efforts are being heralded as a national example of DEI excellence in higher education: The School of Pharmacy is being honored with a prestigious HEED (Health Professions Higher Education Excellence in Diversity) Award by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.
“This national HEED award is a wonderful acknowledgement of our collective efforts to practice and promote an inclusive community, and we’re continuing to make important progress in this area.”
One of just six pharmacy schools nationwide and the only school in Wisconsin to receive the honor, the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy is celebrated for its dedication to the recruitment and retention of a diverse student and faculty body, continued leadership support for diversity, and an array of campus diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“This national HEED award is a wonderful acknowledgement of our collective efforts to practice and promote an inclusive community, and we’re continuing to make important progress in this area,” says Lisa Imhoff, the School of Pharmacy’s associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Rigorous application and reflection
The HEED Award is a comprehensive assessment of an institution’s dedication to broadening diversity and inclusion on campus. This coveted award evaluates various dimensions of an institution’s commitment to diversity, encompassing initiatives, programs, and outreach efforts. The application itself, although time-consuming, serves as a reflective tool for institutions to assess their diversity efforts and refine their strategies for ongoing improvement.
“The HEED Award selection process is rigorous, assessing the recruitment and retention of students and faculty, pathway programs, community partnerships, leadership support for DEI initiatives, and a comprehensive list of other considerations,” states INSIGHT Into Diversity publisher, Lenore Pearlstein.
In speaking with the INSIGHT team, Imhoff says she learned that there was no single factor that set the School apart, but instead, it was the collection of cohesive efforts.
“They were impressed by the breadth of our efforts,” she says. “They see DEI throughout the curriculum, in our HR practices, and in our partnerships with other organizations.”
For Imhoff, the journey towards the HEED Award was not just a professional milestone but a deeply personal one. Years ago, she hesitated to submit the application, feeling that the School’s promising new initiatives needed more time to evolve and mature. As time progressed, she had the opportunity to see how other institutions are managing DEI, which allowed Imhoff to see that the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy was indeed on par with, if not surpassing, these peer benchmarks.
“The School of Pharmacy is more advanced in its DEI infrastructure. Many colleges of pharmacy were establishing DEI committees after 2020 or still have yet to,” says Imhoff. “The School has had a DEI–focused committee since at least 2015.”
The focus on equity and representation is mirrored in the School’s leadership.
“Something that I noticed is that the Dean’s Advisory Council — made up of division chairs and associate deans — is fairly diverse,” says Imhoff. “The council is half men, half women, and a third of the council are people of color.”
Recognized efforts and strategic changes
One of the key initiatives that set the School apart is its efforts surrounding the recruitment of a diverse body of faculty and staff — explicitly outlined in the School of Pharmacy’s strategic plan.
The implementation of inclusive hiring practices includes redacting gender identity and geographical location on resumes to eliminate implicit bias, disclosing pay range in job listings, and creating evaluation rubrics for candidate questions.. Hiring teams also ask each candidate how they see themselves aligned with the School’s values of community and compassion, as well as how they approach working across differences to respect and include all voices.
“People see the value of ensuring our hiring practices are equitable — that we are paying attention to bias and inequity in the hiring process,” says Imhoff. “That’s important to help us build a diverse School of Pharmacy community and ensure we’re hiring the most qualified candidate for the job.”
The commitment to DEI is also woven into the fabric of the School of Pharmacy’s educational approach.
“The School of Pharmacy community is committed to developing culturally-sensitive, patient-centered pharmacists, and our faculty and staff thoughtfully worked to incorporate more inclusive content in the PharmD curriculum, resulting in more than half of required pharmacy courses containing different dimensions of diversity, including cultural diversity,” says Imhoff.
Health disparities are covered in 17 courses required in the PharmD program, while community health is covered in 10, cultural diversity in 13, LGBTQ health issues in three, and religious beliefs linked to healthcare are covered in two. In PharmD students’ first year alone, they learn about global health in three distinct courses.
In tandem with the curricular elements, the School of Pharmacy actively engages its community through town halls, trainings, and activities to address DEI topics with faculty, staff, and students, such as how to make classrooms feel more inclusive and accessible or how to write multiple-choice questions with diversity in mind. Imhoff emphasizes the impact of these events, stating that town halls have been beneficial in promoting efforts and eliminating implicit bias.
The impact of the School’s multifaceted efforts is reflected in PharmD students’ perspectives and experiences.
The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) administers an annual survey to graduating PharmD students, and the School’s graduates report an increasing confidence with importance topics: 95 percent of PharmD students strongly agree that they are able to identify cultural disparities in healthcare, including access and delivery, and 99 percent say that their clinical rotations gave them direct experience with diverse patient populations, across disease states, genders, ages, and more.
While their confidence in their ability to care for diverse populations grows, so does their sense of inclusiveness at Rennebohm Hall. A student climate survey administered by UW–Madison rated the School of Pharmacy as “very inclusive” for students based on their gender identity, nationality or citizenship, and abilities or disabilities.
“Seeing that our students are feeling so positively about their fluency in dealing with diverse patient populations and the inclusiveness of our community really speaks to the progress we have made,” says Imhoff.
Imhoff has observed a surge in student engagement with DEI topics, indicative of a growing awareness and proactive involvement. This heightened student commitment is evident in their initiatives, such as coordinating a new event, DiveRxsity Dialogues, that is bringing in speakers to discuss gender-affirming care, helping patients with housing instability or disabilities, and more.
“Our students are not only participating in the opportunities that we are making available, but they are creating their own,” says Imhoff. “It’s inspiring to see them strive to learn more about the various dimensions of patient identities.”
Room to grow
Although the School has made significant strides, pursuing equity in education and in healthcare is an ongoing, iterative process.
For example, through a recent microgrant from UW–Madison — geared toward improving diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging through data-empowered educational practices — School of Pharmacy faculty are evaluating new ways to help PharmD students engage with underserved communities.
Looking ahead, Imhoff and the School leadership are strategizing to strengthen its success in DEI while addressing areas for improvement. For example, Imhoff says they have plans to help faculty understand the importance of increasing exposure to LGBTQIA+ health issues.
“I’m always looking for new people to collaborate with to think of new ways or reinforce existing ways to emphasize inclusive practices,” says Imhoff.
In the face of challenges to the significance of DEI work, the School is eager to clarify its value in ways that resonate universally. Imhoff emphasizes the need for enduring efforts and language that engages rather than alienates.
“We are evaluating how we show the importance of DEI work in a way that is meaningful to all people and in ways that everyone can see themselves represented and reflected,” says Imhoff.”
As the School confronts enrollment challenges, a renewed focus emerges on ensuring access to a pharmacy degree and enhancing the educational experience for diverse learners.
“This by no means indicates we’re done; it doesn’t mean we’re the best,” says Imhoff. “It’s just really recognition for our efforts today, which are made possible by the efforts of our faculty, staff, and students to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in their spheres of influence. This award shows us that we are making a difference.”