Growing up as an African Canadian woman in Ottawa, Jocelyn Bonti-Ankomah didn’t see many people who looked like herself working in health-care roles.
“I felt in some ways that I had limited opportunities because of the colour of my skin – that I wouldn’t be able to achieve my goals or reach success because I was a woman and African Canadian,” she says. “But my family and friends supported me, and seeing women of colour in the pharmacy industry reminded me that I could overcome roadblocks.”
Today, Jocelyn is doing just that. She’s a second-year School of Pharmacy student and the first recipient of the Rexall Pharmacy Group Community Involvement Award. This new award is provided annually to Black or Indigenous undergraduate students with a strong history of volunteering in their community while demonstrating the values of integrity, customer first, accountability, respect and excellence.
“We want to make an impact and a difference,” says Tracy Paulo-Brown, Rexall’s Director, Talent Attraction and Diversity. “We want to provide opportunities to make education more accessible where systemic racism is present. Awards and bursaries are one way we can help support people and work to dismantle that.”
Jocelyn hopes to become the kind of practitioner that inspired her to pursue pharmacy. Through her volunteering, work and co-op experiences, she’s already making an impact.
“There have been times when I encounter people, either a student of colour or a parent of colour inquiring for their children, who ask me how I was able to attend pharmacy school and how I got to where I am now,” she says. “That’s when I realized that I could be that reminder for others, that I needed growing up.”
Jocelyn leads by example and has volunteered in organizations of all types. From supporting residents and staff in retirement communities to encouraging children to step out of their comfort zone through songs at summer camps to helping operate the Ghana Language and Culture School she attended as a child, Jocelyn values giving back to her community.
“Volunteering is something we do without expecting anything in return,” she says. “It’s these humbling experiences which I find teach us the most. Every volunteer experience taught me something different that I hadn't learned through work or through school.”
Jocelyn’s parents are from Ghana and attending a language and culture school taught her to be proud of her heritage. Attending the school while supporting current students was an important way for her to instill pride in Ghanaian culture in others as well.
“Growing up, I attended schools that were Caucasian dominated,” she says. “The Ghana Language and Culture School was the opposite, and it was nice to form a sense of community while celebrating our learning and culture.”
But it was her volunteer experiences at an Ottawa retirement residence that put her on a path to health care. Jocelyn volunteered with older adults and saw first-hand what a difference medication education and personalized care can make for patients. That lesson hit home when her own grandmother was diagnosed with diabetes.
“My grandmother’s diabetes was not controlled due to medication misconceptions, lack of medication access and lack of medication education,” she says. “Seeing her situation made me interested in pharmacy – I wanted to be part of the profession that could educate patients on medication and contribute to positive therapeutic outcomes.”
For Rexall, establishing the award was both about supporting the practitioners of tomorrow and about acknowledging the importance of diversity and inclusion throughout pharmacy education.
“As a community pharmacy group, it is important we are reflective of the communities we serve,” says Tunde Kolarinwa, Vice President of Talent Management and the HR Lead for Rexall’s ASPIRE Inclusion and Diversity Network, which represents BIPOC members of Rexall and the McKesson Canada enterprise. “Partnering with Waterloo Pharmacy to ensure members of the BIPOC community have one less thing to worry about through this award is an initiative we are excited about and are confident will make a sustainable impact.”
For Jocelyn, the award is a chance for her to pay it forward.
“This award isn't only for me, but also for other women of colour,” she says. “I want to encourage them to fulfill their goals and remind them that their skin colour is not an obstacle.”