Black female professor feels role models ‘required’ for BME students

Bugewa Apampa becomes one of just 18 black women with UK professorships

August 16, 2016
Black pharmacy student
Source: iStock

One of the UK’s few female black professors has described how she has been required to become a role model to students from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds.

Bugewa Apampa, professor of pharmacy education at the University of Sussex, said that there is a “lack of role models” for BME students, who can find it “difficult to see themselves” in leadership positions.

According to a Runnymede Trust report last year, only 85 professors in the UK are black, and of them just 17 are women. Professor Apampa became the latest addition to this list when she was promoted to a professorship last month. She was promoted on the basis of her achievements in teaching and administration rather than research, she said, which is “quite novel”.

Professor Apampa joined Sussex as director of pharmacy development almost three years ago, after working as a programme leader and director of learning and teaching at the Medway School of Pharmacy, a collaboration between the universities of Kent and Greenwich.

Asked whether she felt that she had had to become a role model, she said: “I’ve been very happy to take it on, but it’s something I recognised was required. It’s something I observed from students who approached me, when they have issues.”

She recalled that there were no black professors at the Medway School of Pharmacy during her tenure, and said that she saw her role as being “to guide, inspire and motivate students”, in particular those from BME backgrounds. Professor Apampa said that she also visited schools, particularly those that were “underperforming”, to encourage students from all backgrounds to go to university.

While many pharmacist practitioners are female and healthcare students tend to come from a range of backgrounds, there is generally “a lack of diversity” among leadership positions in industry and academia, she said.

“It doesn’t matter to me who you are or what the colour of your skin is. What matters is that students are inspired and motivated to go further than they think they can. Because I believe everybody can if they try to,” she added.

At Sussex, Professor Apampa has led the launch of a new professional pharmacy degree, which has been created in consultation with industry and patients. Its first cohort of students will begin next month.

A key achievement for Professor Apampa has been “embedding the principles of cultural competence into the curriculum”, to ensure that students understand about diversity before they begin work in healthcare. This involves students working with the “underserved” public in the first year of the course. Students might deal with the homeless, the disabled or other vulnerable groups of people, Professor Apampa said.

“I think the world needs compassionate carers,” she added.

“In the primary care setting, you will come across a range of people," Professor Apampa continued. “As well as people from a variety of ethnicities, you will come across people with disabilities and refugees. If you are going to be compassionate, you need to be aware of who makes up your population and be able to deal with those people within that population.”

Professor Apampa added that her experience in industry has been key to her becoming a successful academic. She worked as project director and community pharmacy lead in the Welwyn Hatfield Primary Care Trust for 15 months and prior to this spent several years as a pharmacy manager, before joining the Medway School of Pharmacy. This background means that she understands what skills students need to learn and how they need to behave in order to become a professional pharmacist, she argued.

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