Global Impact

The whole person

How a pharmacy school in Southern California is serving its local community and helping to change the face of pharmacy in America – and how Walgreens is helping to support them.

By Tom Wall

pharmacy white coats

Across the bottom of Loma Linda University’s official crest, four short words appear: To Make Man Whole.

The motto applies to each of the eight schools that comprise Loma Linda University, the Seventh-Day Adventist health sciences university, which is nestled between San Bernardino and Riverside in the heart of Southern California’s Inland Empire.

But perhaps none of the schools typifies this motto more completely than the School of Pharmacy and dean Michael Hogue.

Michael Hogue
Michael Hogue

“At the School of Pharmacy, we view our role in providing whole-person care as not just something we do for our patients, but something that’s important for us to do for our students,” Hogue says. “We want to take care of our students not just intellectually, but physically, emotionally and spiritually. Because if all of those things are humming, then our people can be the best that they need to be in order to take the best care of their patients.”

Loma Linda University Health includes six hospitals, 60 outpatient clinics and 16,000 employees across the Inland Empire – so its role in the local community is not constrained to just academics. Loma Linda University Medical Center, with the only Level I trauma center in San Bernardino County, provides service to a rural part of Southern California that has extremely limited access to healthcare services. In addition to teaching and training students in multiple medical disciplines, Hogue explains, the school has an obligation to serve local populations that aren’t otherwise receiving service.

This year, that obligation was put to the test as the coronavirus spread across Southern California, pushing pharmacy students into unexpected roles.

Because students at Loma Linda University learn through direct patient care, they’re seen as essential healthcare workers. So when the university’s employee health services department needed to find a way to do detailed and complex contact tracing for its healthcare workers who risked exposure to the virus, it partnered with the School of Pharmacy, using pharmacy students and pharmacist faculty members to do that contact tracing, with the workers’ consent.

“This was definitely outside the normal function for a pharmacist, and new protocols had to be implemented, but the students got great practice and experience working with COVID-19,” Hogue says. “It was a really neat learning opportunity for them.”

A reflection of the community

Outside the world of coronavirus, having a pharmacy school that plays a major role in supporting and embodying the community has always been front-of-mind for Hogue.

“Our goal at Loma Linda University is to have a student body that truly is reflective of our community that surrounds us in San Bernardino County and in Southern California,” he says. “We want to ensure that all people who would perhaps dream of the possibility of a career in pharmacy have the opportunity to do so here.”

According to census data, more than 40 percent of the population of San Bernardino County is Hispanic or Latino, and another 15 percent is Black. Under Hogue’s watch, the School of Pharmacy has taken many steps to help make sure Loma Linda University is providing opportunities for all prospective students, regardless of background or financial means, to pursue careers in pharmacy.

“We’re trying to be creative in our recruiting processes to identify students who may have not considered pharmacy as a career option,” he says. “Sometimes we'll reach out to people who’ve expressed interest by becoming pharmacy technicians initially, and help them see the other pathways of opportunity that pharmacy can provide. I think we’re realizing more and more that not everybody necessarily has the same opportunities, and we need to find ways to ensure that individuals who may have not been able to pursue their dreams in pharmacy have a mechanism to do that.”

Several years ago, Loma Linda University established a technical school, the San Manuel Gateway College, in the city of San Bernardino, in collaboration with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians tribal government. The school offers students – a vast majority of whom are Hispanic, Latino or Black, a path toward healthcare employment, with accelerated certificate programs in areas such as surgical technology, community healthcare work and – new this year – pharmacy technology.

San Manuel Gateway College
The San Manuel Gateway College was established to help serve the population of nearby San Bernardino.

“It’s highly subsidized, so the cost to the student is very nominal,” Hogue explains. “The hope is that this can become a pipeline for a formal pharmacy education, and we can help provide some mentorship opportunities with our pharmacists.”

Loma Linda University is also heavily engaged with pre-pharmacy clubs at universities throughout the Inland Empire, providing shadowing or mentorship opportunities for students at schools with diverse student bodies, such as the University of California-Riverside, California State University-San Bernardino and California Baptist University.

“We’re playing the long game,” Hogue says. “This is not the kind of thing you do today and then tomorrow you expect to reap the benefit. We do it because it's the right thing to do for the community. At some point in the future, we hope that maybe this work will produce some fruit that can be beneficial to the School of Pharmacy, but right now it’s right and that's just what we’re doing.”

A continuing commitment

This year, Loma Linda University received a financial award from Walgreens as part of the Walgreens Diversity Donation program, which identifies and rewards pharmacy schools that show a deep commitment to creating a diverse and representative student body and a more inclusive pharmacy profession. It’s part of more than $850,000 we’re donating to 126 schools across the country in 2020.

“Each school we identify receives award money for student scholarships,” says Justeen Streich, senior manager for talent acquisition for Walgreens and a manager of the donation program. “But schools we think demonstrate the strongest commitment to diversity and inclusion, such as Loma Linda University, receive discretionary funding on top of that, meant to further support their work in this space. Where that money goes, specifically, is up to the school.”

Loma Linda University's School of Pharmacy
Loma Linda University's School of Pharmacy building.

It can be used to supplement recruiting efforts, or it can provide a little more marketing budget for a school. Hogue, of course, thinks outside the box, and with his heart. In the past, some of that funding has been used to help supply white coats for an incoming class’ white coat ceremony, in which first-year students receive a white coat to symbolize the beginning of their healthcare career journeys. This helps remove what can be a significant financial burden for some students and, as Hogue puts it, “give them their moment of pride.”

This year, some of the funding also will be used to enhance outreach to students at San Manuel Gateway College. Some will go to help fund the School of Pharmacy’s newly formed Diversity and Equity Committee, consisting of alumni and faculty who work to ensure that all of the school’s work is examined through an inclusivity lens.

And there’s one more place Hogue will put the funds to use. 

“When Walgreens gives money to a place like us, where we serve disadvantaged pharmacy students as a part of our mission, that money sometimes goes to buy meals for them, because a number of them experience food insecurity during the course of their schooling,” he says.

“It's not just about the education,” he stresses again. “it's about taking care of the whole person.”­­

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