twitter Tweet

‘Getting to health equity’ lecture is call to action for health care community

Dr. David R. Williams at TEDMED
Harvard sociologist, and pre-eminent scholar in the social determinants of health, David R. Williams, Ph.D., M.P.H., presents "How racism makes us sick" at TEDMED, 2016. Williams will be the featured speaker in an endowed lecture, sponsored by OHSU, Moda Health and Legacy Health, will be held at Maranatha Church in Portland, Feb. 28, 2018. (Photo courtesy TEDMED)

In Oregon, members of underserved communities are more likely to be diagnosed with, and suffer disproportionately from, such chronic illnesses as asthma, diabetes, hypertension and HIV/AIDS, and to die prematurely from these and other causes. 

These broad, persistent disparities are neither mysterious nor pre-ordained. They are driven by factors that include unconscious bias in our health care system.

OHSU is joining Moda Health and Legacy Health to confront and challenge the medical community to address these inequities, beginning with an annual endowed lecture to raise awareness. 

DeNorval Unthank
Dr. DeNorval Unthank (1899-1977), among the first African American physicians in Oregon and the only black physician practicing in Oregon in the 1930s. He was a tireless advocate for the underserved. (OHSU)

On Wednesday, Feb. 28, 7 p.m., at Maranatha Church, 4222 NE 12th Ave., Portland, Harvard sociologist and pre-eminent scholar in the social determinants of health, David R. Williams, Ph.D., M.P.H., will discuss “Getting to health equity.”

This free event is open to public, with a special focus on community members, health care providers, advocates and students. The activity is approved for AMA PRA Category 1 credit ™. Learn more at

Williams’ talk is the first community-facing lecture in what will become the annual Dr. DeNorval Unthank Endowed Lectureship in Health Equity, honoring the late Dr. Unthank (1899-1977), who was among the first African-American physicians in Oregon and a tireless advocate for the underserved.

The lectureship was created by Drs. William and Nathalie Johnson through an anchor gift to the OHSU Foundation, with additional contributions from Legacy and Moda. William Johnson, M.D., a general thoracic surgeon by training, is president of Moda Health; Nathalie Johnson, M.D., a breast cancer surgeon, is medical director of the Legacy Cancer Institute. 

African-american woman with very short hair, smiling, looking at camera
Nathalie M. Johnson, M.D., F.A.C.S.
African-american man, wearing glasses, with a light moustache, wearing coat and tie, looking at camera
William E. Johnson, M.D., F.A.C.S., M.B.A.

“It’s clear that our health care system still works far better for some than it does for others,” says Dr. William Johnson.

“And those others always seem to include the poor and the marginalized, the chronically underserved,” says Dr. Nathalie Johnson. “It’s imperative now that we all work, together, to make health equity the cornerstone of health care transformation.”

Guest lecturer Williams is the Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Professor of African and African American Studies and Sociology at Harvard University.

His scholarship in the complex ways in which socioeconomic status, race, stress, racism, health behavior and religious involvement can affect health is internationally recognized. The Everyday Discrimination Scale he developed is among the most widely used measures of discrimination in health studies around the world.

"I believe that your race does not have to be a determinant of your destiny,” Williams said in his April 2017 TED Talk.

man with sandy brown, curly hair, wearing a coat, smiling at camera while standing in front of a building
John G. Hunter, M.D., F.A.C.S.
man smiling at camera, wearing a dark coat and red tie
Brian K. Gibbs, Ph.D.

The idea for the health equity lecture began last spring with Brian Gibbs, Ph.D., vice president for Equity and Inclusion at OHSU, and John Hunter, M.D., executive vice president and CEO of OHSU health system, when Hunter was interim dean of the OHSU School of Medicine. The two approached the Drs. Johnson to endow the lectureship.

“Health inequities in America are becoming recognized as the frontier of today’s Civil Rights Movement,” said Hunter. “Coming together with the Drs. Johnson, Legacy and Moda to raise awareness about these disparities and frame a call to action for addressing them is not only a good thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. We are excited to welcome Dr. Williams and grateful to the leaders and congregation of Maranatha Church for working with us to bring his message to the community.”




Previous Story OHSU staff, students honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy Next Story A time to rise up: Reflections on Dr. King’s legacy
Facebook Twitter LinkedIn YouTube Instagram OHSU Braille services OHSU sign language services OHSU interpreter services