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Best Healthcare Institute prepares minority students for pharmacy careers

A group of students stands with their arms around each other.
Best Healthcare Institute
Some of the participants of the Best Healthcare Institute.

Fourteen years ago, Mario Coronado’s uncle saw a brochure that he thought might be of interest. The pamphlet contained information about a free four-week summer program preparing high school students for careers in pharmacy.

That summer, Coronado became part of the first class of students to complete the Best Healthcare Institute. Today, Coronado is an inpatient pharmacy supervisor at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

If it hadn’t been for that brochure, Coronado likely would have taken a different path.

Best Healthcare Institute participant Mario Coronado (L), and Steven Player, who co-founded the program, joined St. Louis on the Air.
Alex Heuer
St. Louis Public Radio
Best Healthcare Institute participant Mario Coronado (left), and Steven Player, who co-founded the program, joined "St. Louis on the Air."

“At the time, I didn't want anything to do with pharmacy,” Coronado said on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “So it really was a deciding factor in that.”

Founded in 2008, Best Healthcare Institute is now a six-week program open to high school students in the St. Louis area. It seeks to get students from underrepresented racial minorities interested in and prepared for careers in pharmacy and other health care professions.

The program seeks to combat a big problem for pharmacy, and health care in general: The population of the U.S. is diversifying, yet the current makeup of pharmacists does not represent that growing diversity.

According to a recent study in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, by 2050, the Black and Latino population in the U.S. is expected to increase from 30% to 54%. Today, only about 13% of pharmacists identify as being within those racial and ethnic groups.

For Steven Player, Best Healthcare Institute represents a dream that somehow became reality.

“I remember sitting at the dinner table with my wife and saying: ‘Babe, I got an idea. I want to create a program that invests in minority youth locally, that prepares them for future careers in health care, specifically pharmacy,’” he said.

Player, who also trained as a pharmacist, is now vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion for BJC HealthCare. He’s the program’s co-founder as well as co-director.

Listen: The Best Healthcare Institute promotes careers in pharmacy

More than 600 local students have gone through the Best Healthcare Institute, and it boasts an impressive 100% college acceptance rate. In their six weeks of intensive summer school, students experience instruction in math, science and ACT/SAT prep, as well as site visits and leadership training.

Underrepresented high school students from more than 25 local high schools are eligible for the program. There is no cost to participants, and those selected receive a stipend.

“Having providers that look like the patients and community they serve increases the likelihood of positive outcomes,” Player explained. “It's about our community. It's about our overarching health care, in general, across this country that is in dire need of representation, and closing the gaps of health disparities.”

Applications for this year’s program are due March 11.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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