In recent weeks, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate professor of internal medicine, public health, and management and the founding director of Yale SOM’s Pozen-Commonwealth Fund Fellowship in Health Equity Leadership, has become a national voice on the troubling racial inequities in COVID-19 treatment and outcomes.
Days after the November presidential election, Nunez-Smith was named co-chair of the Biden-Harris transition team’s COVID-19 Advisory Board. A few weeks later, then President-Elect Joe Biden named her chair of the new administration’s COVID-19 Equity Task Force. She has since appeared numerous times in the national media, explaining the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on people of color.
Last week, Nunez-Smith appeared on a CNN Global Town Hall, discussing disparities in vaccination with the network’s Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “We have to make vaccination easy and accessible,” she said. “That’s a key priority that’s built into President Biden’s national plan … and when people cannot get to these new vaccination sites that are being stood up that we bring the vaccine to them and the vaccines are free.” Watch
A few days later, on February 1, she spoke at a White House COVID-19 Response Team Briefing, outlining the disparities in hospitalization and death rates that the new administration is facing. Watch
Hours later, Nunez-Smith made two appearances for New Haven audiences, serving as a panelist at a Community Foundation virtual discussion and then answering questions from Black residents in a town hall hosted by the local chapter of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America.
Nunez-Smith, who also teaches a course on health equity and population health to MBA for Executives students at Yale SOM and leads Yale’s Equity Research and Innovation Center and other Yale School of Medicine initiatives, explained in an interview with Yale Insights last year why she takes on so much. “You have to answer the questions, Why you? and Why now?” she said. “And the answer needs to be, ‘Because there would be nobody else, and because the door will close if you don’t do it.’”
One such opportunity was the founding, in 2019, of the Pozen-Commonwealth Fund Fellowship, which brings healthcare practitioners with a focus on health equity to Yale for the 22-month MBA for Executives program, to get the tools to make systemic change. “We need equitable access to high-quality healthcare—and every word in that sentence matters,” she said. “[But] we need a lot outside of the healthcare sector. It’s about all the structural realities that play into the realization of inequity more broadly.”