Social Justice in Modern Health Care

How personal experience inspired U.S. Health Care Leaders

Published March 25, 2024

Courses Mentioned in this Post: Reducing Racial Disparities in Health Care
Series mentioned in this post: Health Care Leadership


Understanding health care disparities is personal for Aswita Tan-McGrory, Director of the Disparities Solutions Center and Director of Equity and Care Implementation at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Inspired by her work at MGH and her own life experiences, Tan-McGrory co-leads our Harvard Online course Reducing Racial Disparities in Health Care to educate other industry leaders on inequalities in health care and how to address social justice issues.

To dive deeper into these complex topics, Tan-McGrory gathered with health care leaders from across the U.S. on a 45-minute webinar. Featured panelists included Dr. Lenny Lopez, Chief of Hospital Medicine and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco; Andrea Madu, Consultant at The Bridgespan Group; and Dr. Esteban Barreto, Director of Evaluation of Equity and Community Health at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The panelists shared how their personal experiences have led them to research and address health care disparities. Andrea Madu shared the story of her family emigrating from Nigeria and how she remembers “going to the hospital as a child and seeing how doctors treated my non-English-speaking grandmother very differently from me and my siblings… I've seen how this poor treatment can translate to poor outcomes for patients.”

Dr. Esteban Barreto shared his similar experiences as an immigrant to the U.S., often watching family members with language barriers try to deal with different systems. Dr. Barreto noted, “It's a combination of both lived experience and also early professional experience, I was able to explore barriers in a more tailored way and hear from those voices who may otherwise be excluded from different assessments.”

To summarize in Tan-McGrory’s words, “This is personal to us. Very personal. Not only are we motivated because, as many people say, it's the right thing to do, but it also resonates with many of us. It's the people that we love that we see as patients.”

Helping people get the care they need is the essence of health care. Unfortunately, too often, modern health care systems are selective about both the people and type of care based on racial bias. How can health care leaders address these inequitable practices in health care, regardless of whether they have relevant, lived experiences like our webinar panelists mentioned?

In her course, Tan-McGrory aims to answer this question and provide tools for industry leaders to tackle health care equality. And it truly does take a village—not just those new to the industry. Dr. Lopez shared, “Even after 20 years of working in the field of equity and health care disparities, I’m constantly learning. I'm constantly being pushed. I’m constantly needing to reflect on my own implicit biases… it’s key to realize that you don’t know everything.”

While the panelists highlighted the value of taking a course to learn about social justice in health care, they also provided some immediate solutions for health care workers to take towards addressing disparities:

  • Have an honest and open dialogue about historical missteps that could damage the community’s trust in medical providers. Madu noted, “Understand the medical mistrust that has happened over decades or centuries, and why some people might not want to come to the doctor or adhere to treatments. There are reasons behind it, and it’s important to come to it with humility and empathy for patients.”
  • Establish networks of passionate health care providers that reflect the community's varied backgrounds. Madu added, “What’s needed is a pipeline of doctors who look like the communities they’re serving and have that lived experience to understand the cultural context of what patients are saying.”
  • Practice listening to patients and inviting them into the solution process. From Madu, “Treat patients as the subject matter experts of their lives. Build trust within the community to recognize where the core issues and root causes are before going into treatment planning.”
  • Focus intentionally on specific areas to make forward progress. Dr. Lopez shared, “That’s where the change happens. We oftentimes have grandiose ideas about how the world is going to change, and often, it’s much smaller victories that add up over time. Those small things are what give you strength, courage, and energy to keep doing the work.”

As Andrea Madu puts it, the key to all of this vital work is this: “Equity is not something that we’re going to solve in our lifetime. But there are pieces of it that we can move along—a journey we’re working toward.”

To hear the full conversation between our panelists and Aswita Tan-McGrory, view the full webinar here.

To learn more about these solutions and other tools for addressing racial disparities in our health care system, check out our Reducing Racial Disparities in Health Care course here.

Related Articles

Best Continuing Education Courses for Health Care Professionals
A list of our top professional development courses for health care professionals.


How to Earn CME Credits with Harvard Online Courses on Health
Physicians Can Earn CME Credits with Harvard Online’s series on Health Care Leadership


Related Blog Posts

The Business of Health Care in the United States

How can we ensure that patients have access to care while still adopting important, life-saving innovations that have the potential to improve health and health care?

How To Earn CME Credits with Harvard Online Courses On Health

Harvard University faculty guide you through topics with a focus on the current state of the US health care system and how you can apply innovative approaches to make improvements within your organization.

Aswita Tan-McGrory Examines Why Disparities Exist in Health Care Systems

While quality and access to health care in the U.S. has been improving in recent years, there’s still significant work to do. Aswita Tan-McGrory is one of the leaders at the helm of this transformative work.