Principles for inclusive implementation of the undergraduate pharmacology core curriculum

Through our vision for inclusive pharmacology, the Society commits to placing equity, diversity and inclusion at the heart of pharmacology, whether in terms of the opportunity for a successful career, or in benefitting from pharmacology research. How pharmacology  is taught, and to whom, is at the heart of achieving this. Therefore, we have developed the following principles for inclusive implementation of the undergraduate pharmacology curriculum as part of a holistic review to help ensure that the curriculum continues to meet the needs of students, responds to an evolving discipline - and ultimately reflects the real-world settings that require pharmacology education and training. 

These principles were developed by an expert steering group and capture the cross-cutting theses that emerged from a wider review of the Society's undergraduate core curriculum. We hope that using them will support the development and delivery of pharmacology programmes that:
  • Positively impact research and health across global communities
  • Acknowledge cultural and historical influences on the discipline
  • Value the individuality of all who benefit from and contribute to pharmacology
  • Operate within inclusive educational environments, including collaboration & setting expectations with students
  • Inspire knowledge sharing and discussion within and between educator and student communities
The Society acknowledges that progress in inclusive pharmacology education will emerge as part of a reflective, collaborative and community-driven approach. These principles are intended to spark discussion and to help continue to build such a community. We know that there will be gaps in knowledge or confidence, and welcome discussion about the use of language. We believe that being honest and curious about where we are now as a collective will help the focus of progressive discussions and support shared learning. To this end, the Society has named inclusive pharmacology as a priority education area, committing funding and staff time to support the development and dissemination of resources, good practice and continued learning. This will be an evolving process and our intention is to progress it in partnership with the global pharmacology community. 

The Society thanks IUPHAR for endorsing these principles. 

To enable inclusive delivery:

Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics
  • Explore genetic and epigenetic influences on drug action and how these lead to interindividual differences in response to drugs
  • Consider how drug effects can be significantly impacted by dietary and environmental variation
  • Consider how drug effects can be significantly impacted by physiological variables such as age, sex and pregnancy
Pharmacological research
  • Examine the need for research to include a diverse and representative pool of subjects
  • Consider drugs in a variety of contexts e.g. as the focal point of clinical trials, as active ingredients in medicines/remedies, as positive controls, as tools in mechanistic studies
The global pharmacology community
  • Provide examples of drugs to treat a broader range of diseases from across the world
  • Recognise global inequalities (e.g. health inequlities, data gaps) and the impact of dominant power structures (e.g. patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism) and biases in generating and perpetuating them
  • Explore the historical and geographical origins of drugs and therapeutic interventions, and recognise contributions to our understanding from all individuals, environments and cultures
  • Acknowledge regional variations in local rules, regulations, resources, technology and approaches to the discovery, development and administration of drugs
Accessible pharmacology
  • Ensure learning environments and materials are fully accessible by accounting for differences in educational skills, backgrounds and learning needs, taking care not to assume expertise or cultural norms
  • Provide support and additional opportunities for learning in critical areas, particularly mathematics, where considerable variation in educational background is recognised
  • Minimise the use of extraneous technology or software where possible, or provide alternative means to access them

We have chosen to include some explanatory notes alongside these principles regarding our use of language. Language is meaningful and can be subject to interpretation. Our intention is to be explicit about our choice of language, and how we hope it will support inclusive implementation - and to invite comment and update as we learn

a. Inclusive pharmacology: The Society acknowledges that the term 'inclusive'  has been used in some education settings to solely mean 'accessible'. Our intention is that these principles capture accessibility - but we use the word 'inclusive' here as an umbrella term in its broadest sense. We recognise that as written, the curriculum hides biases and assumptions that reflect the impact of dominant power structures (e.g. patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism) that must be named if they are not to be perpetuated through implementation. For example, the curriculum is Euro-centric - it is currently framed through a Western lens, valuing Western approaches to drug discovery and development, to terminology, and to Western educational norms. It also hides divides (e.g. between Global North and Global South) and other biases and assumptions prevalent in research, development and health care, such as data gaps that perpetuate health inequalities. Naming inclusivity as a priority for implementation is intended to help acknowledge and redress such biases. 

b. Drug: We recognise that across different cultures and geographical regions, the term 'drug' has a variety of meanings and connotations often referring to Western therapeutic approaches or even abuse of illicit substances. In our documentation, the term 'drug' refers to a chemical or biological entity that induces physiological changes as a result of interactions with a target within the organism, The term is intended as a catch-all for entities that might be active ingredients e.g. within experimental tools, prescribed medicines, plant or herbal preparations, natural products or traditional remedies. In clarifying this, it is hoped that we can open up the pharmacology curriculum to recognise diverse cultural contributions to therapeutic approaches and practice. 

c. Genetic and epigenetic influences: We talk about inter-individual genetic variation in the context of contribution to scientific and clinically meaningful difference in drug responses. We have chosen not to use the term 'ethnicity' in the context of genetics because there are more similarities than differences between ethnic groups. Relying on ethnicity as a proxy for genetics is problematic and risks perpetuating genetic determinism, the tendency for people to ascribe differences in behaviours or traits to genetics alone. To understand differences in individual drug responses, researchers should directly measure the presence of implicated alleles alongside other factors, such as diet, age and sex.

We have also collected some further resources which will support educators in the inclusive implementation of this curriculum.