Legislative Day Draws Connection Between Health and Social Justice

The USC American Pharmacy Student Alliance (APSA) hosted pharmacy industry leaders, elected officials and students at the USC School of Pharmacy’s annual Legislative Day on Friday, October 23. The virtual event focused on helping student pharmacists build awareness of key past and present pharmacy legislation and highlighted the importance of advocacy in achieving social justice in health care.

Dean Vassilios Papadopoulos welcomed attendees to the event. “What happens in Sacramento or in Washington D.C. may seem far away from us here in Los Angeles, but it impacts each and every one of us and the future of health care,” he said.

He also highlighted how many of those hit the hardest by COVID-19 are the very same people in communities “already burdened by a history of prejudice, poverty and racism” and encouraged the school community to be a part of the solution when addressing these health disparities.

Assistant Professor of Clinical Pharmacy and President-Elect of the California Pharmacists Association (CPhA) Richard Dang talked about the profession’s legislative achievements throughout the decades and urged attendees to join a pharmacy association.

“With COVID-19, everyone is talking about pharmacies at the Capitol and our profession has risen to the top of everyone’s minds as essential in battling the pandemic,” said Dang, PharmD ’13, who chairs the CPhA COVID-19 task force.

Danielle Colayco, PharmD ’08, MS ’10, executive director of the Komoto Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps under-resourced communities access social support and pharmacist-provided healthcare services, shared tangible strategies to advocate for health equity at the local level. She discussed the difference between equality and equity, explored how people’s zip codes affect their health and life expectancy and empowered student pharmacists to attend city council meetings.

“It’s important for us as healthcare providers to undo our own biases and advocate for the health and wellness of all our patients,” Colayco said.

Second-year PharmD student Kristine Pisikian, USC APSA’s director of legislative affairs, echoed this sentiment as the event’s organizer and moderator.

“As future healthcare professionals, we all have a moral responsibility to be mindful and aware of social issues and their impact on our patients at a personal and population health level,” Pisikian noted. “We should always keep a critical perspective about health disparities, actively engage in dialogue about social issues and be more vigilant about taking action to make our healthcare system more sustainable and equitable for all.”

Assemblymember Evan Low (California District 28) reminded attendees that politics requires engagement from everyone.

“I have no pharmacy training, but I have to make decisions that will impact your profession,” Low said. “I depend on the relationships I’ve built with associations like the California Pharmacists Association (CPhA), so get involved and advocate for your profession as one voice.”

Also speaking at the event were Susan Bonilla, CEO of CPhA; Michelle Rivas, executive vice president of government relations at CPhA; Ken Thai, PharmD ’02, past president of CPhA and CEO of 986 Pharmacy; Aya Jamal, past president of the International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation (IPSF); Lisa Gunther Lum, PharmD ’86, president of California Society of Health-System Pharmacists (CSHP); Steve Gray, past president of CSHP; Thomas Johnson, president of American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP); and Komal Patel, PharmD ’04, the digital health clinical lead at Catalia Health.

The day of networking, speeches and discussion concluded with a Q&A session that gave student pharmacists the opportunity to ask the panel of speakers about the outlook for the pharmacy profession and other topics.