Episode #120: A clarion call to eliminate disparities & inequities in healthcare – with Michellene Davis, CEO of the National Medical Fellowship, Inc.


Welcome back to the first episode of the 2021 Fall season.  We are embarking upon the 5th year of the ‘Creating a New Healthcare’ podcast – and we have an amazing line-up of courageous, bold, entrepreneurial individuals that we’ll be hearing from this season.

In this episode, we have the privilege of speaking with Michellene Davis. The theme of this interview, which was recorded on Aug 4th 2021, is centered on eliminating the racial disparities & inequities in the healthcare profession, as well as addressing the gross disparities in healthcare delivery and outcomes in the US.

Ms. Davis is the new President and Chief Executive Officer of National Medical Fellowships, Inc.  Prior to her current role, Ms Davis served as the Executive Vice President & Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at RWJ Barnabas Health, the largest academic medical center system in New Jersey. Michellene has been named among the Top 25 Most Influential Minority Leaders in Healthcare by Modern Healthcare Magazine. Prior to joining RWJBarnabas Health, Ms. Davis served as Chief Policy Counsel to former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, where she was the first African American to serve in this position. She was the first African American and only the second woman to serve as Acting New Jersey State Treasurer, responsible for a state budget of over $30 billion dollars. She began her legal career as a trial litigator.

In this episode, we’ll learn about:

  • The National Medical Fellowship Inc – the only private organization solely dedicated to providing scholarships to medical and health professions students underrepresented in healthcare.
  • The tens of thousands of professional alum that have been supported by the NMF since its inception in 1946, including 2 surgeon generals.
  • The leadership development programs and the unique community of support that the NMF offers medical students and fellows.
  • How the NMF directly addresses the elimination of the disparities & inequities in American healthcare through an evidence-based approach.

Michellene’s articulation of the purpose and value of the National Medical Fellowship Inc is enlightening. It’s goal, as I now understand it, is three-fold.  First, to break the cycle of inequity in medical education by providing medical students, residents and subspecialty fellows with financial support. The second goal is to not only increase the percentage of doctors who are Black, LatinX and other under-represented ethnicities in medicine; but also to support these students and trainees in advancing as leaders. The third goal is to eliminate the disparities in healthcare delivery and outcomes in our country.

Toward the end of the interview, I ask Michellene why she upended her career to make this recent professional shift. Her response – “At the height of the pandemic I watched no less than 30 of my colleagues perish. And when you look at who perished and who are the most vulnerable in our communities… after that I just realized that I am done dying. I am done watching colleagues and communities suffer and die, at the expense of what others would just consider an inconvenience…  And I just am tired of watching the same community members suffer the same reality, when those who are in power are blind to the entire equation… And for me, what shifted was that on this side of Covid, with whatever amount of time I might have left on this planet…  I needed every second of it to truly matter, to address this one ill, to save even one life, and to change the face of medicine. As a result of that, I came to NMF…”

Michellene Davis is a leader of rare integrity, honesty and courage. Michellene’s discernment is a litmus of the insidious fundamental wrongs that need to be righted within our healthcare system. Her professional actions and her career trajectory demonstrate a commitment to doing something about it – not talking about doing something – but actually doing something. In my 30 years in healthcare, I have heard countless mission statements & purpose statements – multiple pronouncements about a new day in healthcare. But I have never heard anything as authentic, as meaningful, as resilient, and as full of selfless conviction and integrity as Michellene’s statement of purpose. Her words will ring in my ears and resonate in my soul for years to come.

Until Next Time, Be Well.

Zeev Neuwirth, MD