Nneka Sederstrom, PhD, MPH, MA, FCCP, FCCM joined Hennepin Healthcare as its Chief Health Equity Officer last year. Since then, my colleague and friend has put together an incredible team to tackle some tough issues surrounding health equity, diversity and inclusion. In Episode Eight of The Healthy Matters Podcast, I talk with Dr. Sederstrom about the subject of race and racism in healthcare.

Dr. Nneka Sederstrom“Doctors and nurses are caring people,” she explains. “So it’s kind of like against the grain to say racism and medicine, because the function of how people in the healthcare space act it is to be caring individuals. The problem is that there are still individuals who were raised in a society where racism is the basis of the structures that they were brought up in. So even though they are caring, they still continue to move along the continuum like everybody else is on racism because racism exists in all our structures.”

She goes on to explain how there are disparities because even though everybody needs hospitals, and even though everybody goes to the same doctors and are thought to get the same care, data has shown that they don’t get the same care.

“They don’t receive the same interventions or opportunities for interventions, and they have terrible outcomes. So that’s what we have to address specifically, is those implicit biases in the providers and the nurses and the teams that make up hospitals that cause this consequence of a negative outcome for our patients.”

One of the things I love discovering about my guests is their life journey and what got them to where they are now. Dr. Sederstrom’s story of how her interest in healthcare and ethics came together – and how she arrived in Minnesota – doesn’t disappoint.

“I grew up a kid who was very much in love with medicine. I had one of those human torsos since I was about three years old. I would love taking all the body parts out and putting them back together. I was the only black kid in this private preschool in Northern Alabama. I said I wanted to be a surgeon.”

While removing plastic organs from a torso became the closest surgical procedure for Dr. Sederstrom, she ultimately pursued interests in philosophy and ethics within the healthcare field, staying true to the longings of her 3-year-old heart. She has an extraordinary background in ethics, clinical ethics and in scholarly work about ethics.  But how did she land in downtown Minneapolis?

“The short story is, is I fell in love with the one Minnesotan outside of Minnesota in Washington, D.C. working at Washington Hospital Center. And as we all know, Minnesotans don’t like being outside of Minnesota.”

Dr. Sederstrom is just one of a handful of Black women at her level who is involved in clinical ethics in the country. When she was the director of the Center for Ethics at Washington Hospital Center in D.C., she was the only and first Black woman director of a clinical ethics department.

We talked about that kind of representation, and how important it is to acknowledge color – especially in healthcare situations. I asked her how as a white doctor, can I do better at caring for Black patients? Her suggestions were so powerful and insightful.

Dr. Sederstrom and her team have been busy incorporating exciting opportunities for growth at Hennepin Healthcare through its Talent Garden like the Black Men and Women with Stethoscopes Youth Summits, internships, and other outreach programs. In addition, they are involved in transformational work internally to address systemic racism, including the development of an immersive, comprehensive training program for staff.

“The program creates an opportunity for people to not only learn how to be better in an anti-racist space, but to learn the history of racism in a way that’s useful,” she said.

Learn more about the incredible work being done by the Health Equity Team at Hennepin Healthcare from my conversation with our Chief Equity Officer, Dr. Nneka Sederstrom on Episode Eight of The Healthy Matters Podcast.