John Allen, Pharm.D., is the inaugural associate dean for the University of Florida (UF) Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Health Equity (DIHE) and a clinical associate professor at the UF College of Pharmacy. A native of Philadelphia, Allen joined UF in 2018. His professional areas of interest include medication use disparities, faculty and student diversity efforts, and strategies to optimize antibiotic use in patients with sepsis, and was the Founding Chair of the ACCP Health Equity Practice Research Network (PRN).
Allen graduated with his Pharm.D. degree from Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, Florida. He then completed multiple postgraduate residency training programs at Tampa General Hospital, specializing in critical care pharmacotherapy under the tutelage of Dr. Earnest Alexander. Allen is a dual board-certified pharmacist in critical care and pharmacotherapy as well as an elected Fellow of both the American College of Clinical Pharmacy and the American College of Critical Care Medicine.
In his current role, Allen leads the UF College of Pharmacy in becoming a recognized national leader in DIHE. Allen’s work centers on four pillars: (1) recruitment and retention of a diverse student body and workforce, (2) cultivation of an inclusive environment where everyone is respected and valued, (3) development of culturally intelligent pharmacy professionals to meet the needs of a diverse patient population, and (4) facilitation of novel research and practices to eliminate health disparities and promote health equity. Allen works with a team of faculty, staff, and students dedicated to these goals using evidence-based approaches and illustrating that the pursuits of DIHE excellence and institutional excellence are interdependent and achievable goals. Allen has received NIH funding as a coinvestigator for the tri-university U54 partnership between UF, FAMU, and the University of Southern California Cancer Research, Education, and Engagement (CaRE2) Health Equity Center, where he leads UF’s efforts on the Research Education Core. Before his current role, Allen was a trauma critical care pharmacist, health-system pharmacy administrator, researcher, and pharmacy educator.
Allen believes that the important work of DIHE is an “everyone” responsibility and does not rest on one person or one office. Because of this belief, the UF Office of DIHE interfaces with internal and external parties to make progress. The DIHE team works with key stakeholders to develop innovative strategies to achieve shared goals. The Office of DIHE strives to cultivate an environment that is grounded in collaboration, respect, and excellence. The team has worked to normalize respectful discussions that acknowledge and honor differences but also embrace commonalities.
In addition, UF endeavors to have a student body that reflects the community it serves. Underrepresented minority student enrollment at UF is 41%, which is similar to the state’s demographics. Moreover, to prepare its students to care for diverse patient populations and promote health equity, UF has increased discussions within the curriculum on the recognition of health disparities and root causes, including social and structural determinants of health, the pharmacist’s role in reducing disparities, and available resources to assist patients with social needs. Combined, these activities illustrate a commitment to promoting health equity.
As an African American man raised in inner-city Philadelphia, Allen is familiar with the challenges often faced by people from underserved communities. For him and those who grow up in medically underserved communities, health disparities are a vivid reality, and these experiences have shaped his professional identity. In the community where he was raised, life expectancy is 10 years less than in the more affluent community just 2 miles away. Allen believes that, based purely on statistics, his professional story should not be possible. However, he has been successful because of the lessons instilled by his parents, mentors, and community elders. He believes he has an obligation and responsibility to be a role model for trainees and junior colleagues. He strives to use his position of influence to advocate for increased pathways to becoming a clinical pharmacist and be a positive influence on future pharmacists to reduce health disparities in their own practice settings.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made evident many longstanding factors that contribute to health disparities in communities of color, including access to care, health literacy, and low levels of trust in the health care system. Allen felt honored to participate on a COVID-19 Vaccine Access Task Force with leaders from various disciplines, including civic, faith, and health-system leaders, to develop strategies for enhancing access to the COVID vaccine and delivery methods. Task force members included leaders from rural and urban settings to ensure all communities had access to vaccination and accurate information on the associated benefits. As the only pharmacist on the task force, Allen found it humbling to see people from all walks of life come together to work toward a common purpose and build trust within their communities, and he hopes the goodwill gained from their partnership can foster long-lasting relationships to combat chronic disease states with known disparities such as hypertension, diabetes, and COPD.
For Allen, one of the most important actions of the pharmacy profession in efforts to reduce the impact of health disparities is to increase diversity within the pharmacy workforce. Clinical pharmacists are well positioned to help reduce the health disparities present in multiple specialties. Evidence notes that racially concordant interactions between patients and providers are associated with better patient communication, which has several theoretical downstream benefits. Data on racial concordance and clinical outcomes are in their infancy, but emerging data such as improved infant mortality indicate the potential clinical benefit. More research is needed to determine how clinical pharmacists can create better and more equitable patient outcomes across specialties.