Health Care

Recognizing and Exploring Structural Racism in Health Care to Inspire Action

July 23, 2020  • Health Innovators Fellowship & Health, Medicine & Society Program

The U.S. has recorded more than 140,000 deaths from COVID-19. The numbers show that Black and brown people are up to 3.5 times more likely to die of the virus than white people.

On June 10, the Aspen Health Innovators Fellowship (HIF) and Health, Medicine & Society (HMS) Program offered a webinar on American Racism Through the Lens of COVID-19. Drs. Thomas Fisher and Raegan McDonald-Mosley, Health Innovators Fellows of the Aspen Global Leadership Network (AGLN), shared their expertise on the role of structural racism in U.S. health care with NPR’s Maria Hinojosa. The conversation explored how we can use this moment to address persistent health care inequities and injustices experienced by people of color, particularly Black, Indigenous, and Latinx individuals.

“There’s so much energy and effort in the health care system to look under the skin, into a cell, into a molecule to find the answer when the answers are obvious and around us in society. And that is a much more challenging problem to solve.”—Dr. Thomas Fisher

Recognizing a hunger and urgency to dive deeper into these issues, the programs created a new offering to empower webinar participants to explore structural racism in health care further and inspire them to take action to address it. Built on the Aspen Institute’s 70-year history of moderated, text-based dialogue, the programs engaged webinar participants and AGLN Fellows in an intimate seminar-style conversation led by Institute-trained moderators that, for the first time, utilized the expertise shared by Fellows in a webinar as the guiding “text.” Using the information gleaned from Drs. Fisher and McDonald-Mosley during the June 10 webinar, participants considered their values and how to apply them to the health care context as well as other embodiments of racism throughout society.


Above: The seminar “text” – expertise from the Fellows – used to guide the session’s conversation.

Unlike seminars, the Health Innovators Fellowship and other AGLN programs usually host—exclusively for Fellows—this seminar provided an opportunity for members of the public to engage with Fellows and one another in the unique Aspen Institute seminar experience. By bringing together these diverse voices, the HIF and HMS programs set the stage for contemplation and conversation with the hopes of the engagement ultimately leading to action—a true extension of the Health Innovators Fellowship’s mission.

“I was invigorated by the discussion and felt that it provided a way to help move from worry and despair about the state of the world to talking with others about what can be done—a step toward action.”—Seminar Participant

Like so many other programs and organizations, the Health Innovators Fellowship has adjusted its work during this time of parallel crises. Through a reaffirmation of the Fellowship’s mission—to develop a community of energized, values-driven leaders committed to finding viable solutions to confront U.S. health care’s problems—the program has reimagined its work to focus not only on supporting the leadership journey of its 100 Fellows, but also to take a more active role in using its platform to spark collaboration, amplify the work of leaders, and educate and engage the public.

To learn more about the programs and their work, visit the Health Innovators Fellowship and Health, Medicine & Society Program pages.