Thanks to her exceptional work in advancing equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at the University of Brighton, Pharmacy MPharm student Abeer Aamir has won this year’s David Kearney Award from the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA).
Abeer, who has just finished her third year, described herself as “incredibly grateful and humbled” to receive the prestigious national award, which recognises outstanding contribution to pharmacy over the past 12 months.
The nomination calls Abeer’s commitment to promoting inclusivity and diversity within the pharmacy profession “a testament to her dedication to advancing the field, keeping patients safe, and making it more equitable and accessible for all individuals”.
“As a first-generation immigrant and a pharmacy student, I’ve seen both sides of the coin,” Abeer said. “I’ve seen the ways in which medical racism penetrates the healthcare profession, and it really does disproportionately affect people of colour and women. So, using all that lived experience, I really hope to shine a light on unconscious bias and unconscious medical racism, so that the curriculum is a lot more reflective of the population that our graduates are serving.”
As an Inclusive Practice (IP) Partner, working with the IP team in the School of Applied Sciences, Abeer has been instrumental in instigating lasting change to the Pharmacy curriculum. Thanks to her recommendations, for example, the course now includes a skincare workshop in which students are asked to identify different clinical presentations of skin conditions on different skin tones.
“That’s a massive thing in community pharmacy,” she said. “You’re going to have patients coming in with all sorts of weird skin complaints, and if you’re not able to diagnose it properly, just because the person has darker skin tone, I don’t think that’s acceptable. So it was incredible that we were able to get that through.”
The changes haven’t only been to the curriculum, but also to the wider conversation around unconscious bias. “A lot of the lecturers have been so incredible and supportive,” Abeer said. “Even having those discussions with them, I’ve noticed that they’ve taken our recommendations to a different level.”
Take the third-year Pharmacy students’ monthly numeracy test materials: once Abeer pointed out to third-year module leader Sam Ingram that Pharmacy study materials didn’t contain many ethnic names, Sam made sure that the numeracy tests had examples of a range of names – and that the questions celebrated holidays like Eid and Kwanzaa.
For Professor Rebecca Elmhirst, Brighton Achieves Lead (Inclusive Practice) in the School of Applied Sciences, the past few years have seen a step change regarding inclusive practice. “One of the biggest achievements in the School has been around fostering a sense that these are conversations that need to happen and that they shouldn’t be feared,” she said, “as well as engendering that sense of partnership working with students and, particularly, taking seriously the lived experience of students of colour and staff of colour.”
The resulting changes to case studies have “been a game-changer for colleagues”, Professor Elmhirst added. “It took students like Abeer to point out things that in retrospect seem incredibly basic and straightforward, but they make a huge difference for students and staff,” she said.
“Abeer is pushing at a door that’s not always easily opened but she approaches it in such a helpful, kind way that it brings people along with her rather than these being confrontational conversations. I’ve learned a lot from her.”
Claire May, Senior Lecturer in Medicines Use in the School of Applied Sciences, with whom Abeer has collaborated on several EDI projects, also had nothing but praise for Abeer’s achievements.
“Abeer is a deserving winner of this award,” she said. “I first started working with her in her capacity as an inclusive practice partnership (IPP) student when she supported me in revamping teaching materials for workshops, with the aim of making them more inclusive. Abeer’s drive and passion, which she has demonstrated through her commitment to numerous initiatives targeted at promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), are outstanding. I am eagerly looking forward to our next project, where we plan to assess how EDI needs impact learning within an interprofessional environment.”
The praise goes both ways: “I just can’t thank Claire enough,” Abeer said. “She’s been such a big support with all my work on EDI. It really helped to solidify my interest and that this is something I need to be doing.”
Abeer is equally complimentary about her other lecturers. “I want to hone in on the point that the University really is made better by its teaching staff,” she said. “They’ve been so incredible in my journey. All of them deliver the lecture materials in such fun and exciting ways – especially because Pharmacy is so heavy, it’s a very difficult degree to go through.”
Rather than focus on traditional modules, where you learn one thing at a time, the lecturers take a case-based, patient-centred approach. It was this course structure that drew Abeer – originally from Toronto, Canada – to Brighton in the first place. “I always wanted to make patients the forefront of what I was doing and how I was learning, and Brighton offers such a unique perspective in the way that the course is delivered,” she said.
She mentions as an example the substance misuse case, delivered by Dr Yousif Shamsaldeen. “He’s an amazing lecturer,” Abeer said. “There’s a lot of neuro knowledge that’s very hard to grasp but he delivered it incredibly.”
The practical, public health aspects of the case also appealed to Abeer. “Thinking about how we can help these patients in practice – I love that. Being from Canada and seeing the opioid crisis first-hand – and having done some volunteer work in regards to it as well – then consolidating that knowledge together with this case, that was fun.”
Next academic year will be Abeer’s last at Brighton, after which she is considering a career in hospital pharmacy. Wherever she ends up, though, her patients will always come first – and she will continue to lobby for fairer treatment for all.
“At the end of the day, the one main thing I want to see in pharmacy is ensuring that all patients have equal opportunities for optimal health and wellbeing – it’s as simple as that,” she said. “If I’m able to change the health outcome of one patient, everything would have been more than worth it. Plus, I want all future pharmacists to feel welcomed and included in the role and the profession, regardless of things like disabilities, age or gender.”