Dr. Sotunde leads North Carolina’s largest health insurance provider, which provides coverage to more than 3.7 million members across all 100 counties. Dr. Sotunde was born in Nigeria and attended boarding school in England. In the early 1990s, Dr. Sotunde immigrated to the United States, where he completed his pediatric residency training. Dr. Sotunde is a graduate of University of Ibadan College of Medicine in Nigeria and Howard University’s Hospital Residency Program in Pediatrics. He completed his Executive MBA at the University of Memphis and studied health care management at the Wharton School of Business.
"We need to focus on two goals simultaneously: in the short term, we need to make sure people of color have trust in the COVID-19 vaccine; in the longer term, we must draw more people of color into the scientific and medical fields that are responsible for developing our vaccines."
There is an understandable vaccine hesitancy among communities of color, stemming from historic and contemporary race-based injustices in health care. This adds to the gaps in equity made even more evident by COVID-19. How do we improve confidence in vaccines in communities of color?
Most immediately, we need to focus on distributing and administering the vaccine equitably. We must secure quick and easy access to the vaccines in communities where poverty, unemployment, social isolation, and housing and transportation challenges have left residents vulnerable.
But strategic distribution needs strategic messaging as well. Engagement efforts that build trust from within the community are critical if we want to tackle the immediate task of promoting the vaccines.
We’re already seeing examples of Black leaders in the scientific community stepping up to highlight how people of color have played critical roles developing the vaccines and designing the safety trials. Just this week for example, 60 Black members of the National Academy of Medicine issued a joint statement of support for the COVID-19 vaccines. We need more business and community leaders who are minorities and people of color to lead by example in this regard.
Looking to the future, we also need to address the root of the problem: the historic under-representation of people of color in our scientific and medical communities, which has led to well–documented examples of neglect, abuse and exploitation.
This requires a long-term commitment. It means promoting efforts to get more Black and Brown students to see careers in science and medicine as exciting and viable options; supporting initiatives that bring diversity into our STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classrooms; and investing in our nation’s historically Black colleges and universities.
We need to focus on two goals simultaneously: in the short term, we need to make sure people of color have trust in the COVID-19 vaccine; in the longer term, we must draw more people of color into the scientific and medical fields that are responsible for developing our vaccines.
Which health care leader who is African American do you most admire, and why?
There are many health care leaders of all races that I admire. But I hold David Satcher, MD, PhD, in particularly high regard.
Inspired as a young man to pursue a career in medicine by his family’s doctor – also an African American – in a small town in Alabama, Dr. Satcher was active in the civil rights movement during his undergraduate years at Morehouse College in Atlanta. After earning his MD and PhD at Case Western Reserve University in 1970, Dr. Satcher amassed a list of professional achievements and honors too extensive to list in full here. His career highlights include a number of roles in government, culminating in his term as Surgeon General of the United States under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
What I admire most about Dr. Satcher is his work to address disparities in health and inequities in health care. Time has proven Dr. Satcher to be painfully prescient on these issues. Dr. Satcher’s advocacy over the last four decades played a large part in raising health disparities as an urgent crisis for today’s health care system – and in bringing focus to my own role as a health care leader.