Olivia White wearing a \"Trans Rights are Human Rights\" shirt
Olivia White hopes to be a "respectful, encouraging, visible presence" for the LGBTQIA+ community in her role as a clinical pharmacist. (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

Class of 2022: Student founded pharmacy org focused on LGBTQIA+ issues

Olivia White started PrideRx in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy in early 2020, and the group is helping prepare students to serve LGBTQIA+ patients.

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Olivia White, who is graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in May with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, is also the founder of PrideRx, a pharmacy student organization that provides a space for LGBTQIA+ individuals and allies at the VCU School of Pharmacy.

White, who self-describes as gender-nonconforming, a member of the lesbian community, and uses she/her and they/them pronouns, said they enrolled in the VCU School of Pharmacy in 2018 because it is the strongest Pharm.D. program in the state and because they wanted to expand their network of LGBTQIA+ individuals. White said there are groups for queer students across the Monroe Park and MCV campuses (such as Rainbow Group, Med Pride, and Practice with Pride), but she noticed a lack of visible spaces for her community at the School of Pharmacy.

When White reached out to Orlantae Duncan, the school’s administrative office specialist, about that gap, Duncan encouraged them to take a leadership role in creating something new. White hesitated at first but ultimately decided to step up to the challenge.

“I think that it was a great decision to make while I was at the pharmacy school,” White said. “I wanted to make something more accessible and more visible for people to join.

In only two years, PrideRx has already made an impact on the VCU community. The organization serves as a safe space for students in the Pharm.D. program, and hosts talks on subjects related to LGBTQIA+ patients, including the role of pharmacists in transgender health care, the use of preferred pronouns in mental health care, and the barriers to HIV treatment experienced by the Black, queer community. 

“It's really focused on making sure that we're preparing other pharmacy students for helping LGBTQIA+ patients,” White said.

Last spring, PrideRx raised money for the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, and the National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network through virtual and in-person events, such as virtual trivia and mask tie-dying.

PrideRx also has attracted prospective students to the School of Pharmacy, which has twice been recognized as the most inclusive academic department at VCU based on the VCU Organizational Campus and Culture Survey. Gray Scott, a first-year pharmacy student who uses they/them pronouns, said they picked VCU specifically because of PrideRx. Scott said they were undecided between VCU and another program when they stumbled across the organization’s Instagram page. That made them feel more comfortable.

“All of the other schools I looked at, I looked at pictures of students, people on campus and couldn't see any gender-diverse people whatsoever,” Scott said. “And so just seeing somebody who slightly broke that mold made me feel so much more comfortable coming into pharmacy school.”

The sense of community the group brings is one of the most rewarding parts of their efforts, White said, as is knowing that “getting this ball rolling has made a huge difference for people.”

“I think that that was something that was monumental for me to hear,” Whie said. “And that was something that was very rewarding to know that I was creating a place that was being seen as safe and helpful.”

White also hopes the legacy of the club surpasses their time at VCU, and they hope to continue to advocate for LGBTQIA+ and gender-nonconforming patients in their career with an aim toward becoming a clinical psychiatric pharmacist.

“There's also a huge number of LGBTQIA+ people who are in psychiatric care,” White said. “They might find themselves in a less than ideal situation where their pronouns aren't being respected, or they might not be getting the fullest care that they can, or their medication might not be managed as appropriately. … And I'd really love to be there as a presence from the LGBTQIA+ community as a clinical pharmacist that's able to manage medications thoughtfully while also being that respectful, encouraging, visible presence.”

White has matched to the Veteran Affairs Medical Center’s postgraduate year one program in Cincinnati. She hopes to pursue a psychiatric pharmacy-focused postgraduate year two and looks forward to working with medically underserved populations and LGBTQIA+ patients both inside and outside the VA system.