African-American R.Ph.S Making Their Mark

By Ukens, Carol | Drug Topics, January 1, 1992 | Go to article overview

African-American R.Ph.S Making Their Mark


Ukens, Carol, Drug Topics


African-American pharmacists have taken their place in all aspects of pharmacy, overcoming barriers both blatant and subtle. They work in community pharmacies; they are college deans and professors; they are independent consultants and hospital pharmacy directors; and they work for pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy associations. In honor of National Pharmacy Week, Drug Topics has singled out a trio of African-American pharmacists as a hats off to the accomplishments and contributions of the many who are making a difference for their people and their profession.

MADAME PRESIDENT

Ramona McCarthy is a self-described fighter who has battled during most of her 41 years in pharmacy. As the newly installed president of the National Pharmaceutical Association, she's now facing the challenge of revitalizing the organization representing African-American pharmacists.

Founded 45 years ago, the National Pharmaceutical Association has "fallen on tough times," said McCarthy, who is a chemist with the Food & Drug Administration division of bioequivalency in the office of generic drugs. Her presidential agenda includes "an infusion of new blood" to rebuild the older membership, which tends to decrease as members retire or die. Her first-year goal is 500 new members.

"There are 6,000 black registered pharmacists in America," said McCarthy, whose family has produced 16 pharmacists over four generations. "We ought to have at least 3,000 of them as members."

The association is on the move--literally and figuratively. McCarthy and the group's new executive v.p., Terri White-Moore, are scouting out a permanent home in Washington, D.C. A blue ribbon committee has been created to guide long-term strategic planning. Also, alliances are being formed with other professional minority health-care organizations to address mutual concerns.

"We see health care delivered least where it's needed most--in the predominantly minority inner city," said McCarthy. "There is no one to be an advocate for them. We have to push and push hard with other minority health-care delivery groups to give them a voice."

Having a voice has always been part of McCarthy's philosophy. When she moved from her native Ohio to Maryland with her husband in the early '50s, there were no African-American pharmacists licensed in the state. Even with a master's degree in chemistry, she couldn't get a job. No one hired blacks.

She hooked up with the Urban League to test the hiring policy of the National Institutes of Health in Baltimore. She got the job, but as a GS-3 technician, far below her qualifications. When a co-worker told her she should be a GS-9 chemist, she said she "stormed into the personnel office and threatened to sue." There was a big stink, including the media, and they promoted her on the spot to an entry level GS-5 chemist, still four ranks below where she should have been.

"That was my introduction to government service," said McCarthy. "So I just stayed on, because I couldn't find a job as a pharmacist. It's been the best thing that ever happened to me. I usually find that out of every adversity some good comes. That's my philosophy, but at that time I was just mad as hell."

McCarthy then took on the Maryland pharmacy board, applying for license reciprocity with Ohio. She was turned down and told to take the board exam. So she threatened to call her lawyer, back in the days before the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The pharmacy board allowed her to take an oral examination. She got her license. "Everywhere I looked, it was just terrible times, but I was cantankerous enough to go on the warpath. It's been much the same ever since." African-Americans have come a long way since McCarthy first encountered such open prejudice, but there are miles to go. She believes that black youth still face barriers, primarily economic ones, that "racism is alive and well America" and that the "good old boy network" is still operative. …

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