Student Spotlight: Samara White

Meet Samara White, a third-year PharmD student and founding member of the School’s Black Pharmacy Society. Here, the San Jose, Calif. native shares about the importance of addressing disparities that Black communities face in health care, her work in helping the School’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and why she’s pursuing a career in psychiatric pharmacy.

What attracted you to the field of pharmacy? Any particular moment(s) that made you stop and think, “This is the path I want to take?”

I have always had a great interest in the intersection of the brain, behavior and medicine. This led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in cognitive science and definitely influenced my desire to pursue pharmacy. Outside of my interest in this intersection, my commitment to pursue pharmacy was rooted in addressing the disparities that African Americans face in health care. The harmful history of experimentation, discriminatory practices and the resulting distrust that African Americans have in health care has unfortunately directly contributed to the disproportionate trend of poor health outcomes, literacy and equity in our community. While these disparities and healthcare inequities are rooted in political, systemic and interpersonal forms of racism, the unfortunate implication, which frequently dissuades African Americans from seeking medical attention, is the lack of representation of Black healthcare professionals.

My goal is to serve my community and restore our faith in medicine by lending to the representation of African Americans across all fields and professions of health care. By becoming a pharmacist, I will be able to educate and prevent the spread of medical/medication-related misinformation, bridge and mediate the gap in health care and in turn, improve health outcomes in the Black community.

Why did you choose USC School of Pharmacy?

To me, USC represented the standard of healthcare education, and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to learn from the best, and I wanted to surround myself with others who inspire me and motivate me to do better. I also knew that by attending USC I would have the opportunity to make a difference for future students. I have had the opportunity to be a part of the founding of USC’s Black Pharmacy Society, and I want to continue to help create a pipeline and offer support for other Black students who want to pursue pharmacy at USC. I am very proud to call myself a Trojan, but I will be even prouder when I can say that I am a Trojan who fueled change for my community and made an impact in increasing representation in pharmacy.

Can you tell us about your work helping the School’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives? Why was it important to you to be involved?

Students, prospective students and staff gather for a Black Pharmacy Society event. (Photo courtesy of Samara White)

Pursuance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at USC has been important to me and has been influenced by my bimodal experience of being a Black woman in health care: as a patient and in pursuing a professional healthcare career.

As a patient in the healthcare system, I have been on the receiving end of discrimination via ignorant perceptions of Black people, disbelief/skepticism of symptoms in Black women, and being met with resistance when seeking care, which is often followed by feeling dehumanized upon receiving care. These experiences are unfortunately far too common in the Black community, and as I mentioned before, contribute to the negative health outcomes associated with distrust in health care. Because of these experiences, even I have unfortunately found myself in situations where I avoided seeking medical attention.

As a Black woman pursuing an education and career in health care, I am hyperaware of how different I look, how different I am treated, and how different I am perceived in academic and professional settings. Unfortunately, this is not a novel feeling, but rather a consistent theme for many Black and Brown students. When unaddressed, this “otherness” that many minority students experience can be a huge dissuading factor in pursuing healthcare professions—fields which are already historically under-represented, especially by Black women. The first step toward increasing the representation of minorities in professional healthcare careers, and thereby improving outcomes across many communities, is to help recruit, support, and promote retention of minority students at the healthcare education/institution level. This starts with establishing DEI efforts and initiatives through affinity groups such as the Black Pharmacy Society.

It is important to understand that the creation of the Black Pharmacy Society, and affinity groups in general, are by no means a segregation or an isolation, but instead a celebration and a demonstration of support for people who look like us—people who have been typically excluded from pursuing postsecondary education, let alone careers as healthcare professionals. For us, affinity groups are safe spaces that were created out of the need for support and cultural unity for students at USC Mann. The establishment of these affinity groups represents a small step towards equity for minority students on campus, and we hope that this spirit of inclusion will help increase representation at USC.

What advice do you have for incoming students at the school?

In pursuing a PharmD, it is easy to feel like you have lost yourself while keeping up with didactics, pursuing leadership positions and holding internships or other work experiences, but it is incredibly important to hold on to who you are and who you were before pharmacy school. The unique qualities that define who you are, are far more important than any degree or career. Instead of letting the pursuit of pharmacy influence who you are, let those qualities inform the type of pharmacist you want to be.

What are your career aspirations?

My goal is to become a psychiatric pharmacist, ideally practicing in African American communities. As I mentioned before, the mistrust that stems from a legacy of experimentation and discrimination adds to the poor health outcomes that continues to pervade our community. These health outcomes are often defined by and limited to physical health; mental health is often ignored, misunderstood, and highly stigmatized. These barriers to mental health care in the African American population have wider implications in socioeconomic and familial stability, and in turn can perpetuate the cycles of poor physical health, poverty and incarceration—elements that are compounded by the fact that African Americans are already one of the most vulnerable, socio-economically disadvantaged and highly incarcerated populations in America. Beyond this, it is a known fact that African Americans’ encounters with law enforcement and patterns of police brutality are more fatal when there is a mental health component involved. This is why it is so important for me as a future clinician and for my community to address mental health—the sequelae of mental health conditions in my community are especially dangerous and potentially fatal. As a future psychiatric pharmacist, I hope to prevent these unfortunate patterns, and I hope to be a resource in dismantling mental health stigma to encourage members of my community to seek help when it is needed.

What’s a fun fact about you that most people don’t know about?

The most formative years of my life were spent in sports and fitness—I was a gymnast for over 10 years, was part of swimming, diving and water polo teams, and dabbled in track in high school. In undergrad I was an NCAA Division 1 diver and following that I became a personal trainer!