Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Albert Einstein College of Medicine alumnus Utibe R. Essien, MD, ’13, MPH, has delivered more than 40—mostly virtual—keynotes and seminars to physicians, researchers and faculty members from Boston to Boise, Idaho. His one-hour talks encompass COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 topics while focusing on another public-health crisis: racism in medicine. “This topic is reverberating around our communities,” Dr. Essien says. “So we’re seeing a groundswell about health equity, health justice and antiracism in medicine that we haven’t seen before.”
In one such talk, “Bending the Arc Toward Justice in Health,” Dr. Essien leaves his audience with an imperative known as the five Ds: desegregate healthcare in the United States, divest from racist practice and policy, diversify the medical workforce, develop antiracist medical curricula and deepen community investments.
“COVID-19 reminded us that you just can’t put your head down when people are dying across the country and across the world,” says Dr. Essien, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a Core Investigator in the VA Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, where he studies racial and ethnic disparities in the use of novel cardiovascular medications and technologies. “And then, after George Floyd was killed, that opened the door even wider to focusing on racism as a direct driver of health. That was such a powerful realization for many.”
The pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black, Hispanic and American Indian communities, says Dr. Essien, has spotlighted health disparities and their social determinants. “We’re learning more and more that improving health outcomes is not just about having a doctor who can prescribe medications,” he explains.