Dr. Utibe Essien and CPSolvers Present the “Antiracism in Medicine” Podcast Series

Last spring, Dr. Utibe Essien, Assistant Professor of Medicine, was trying to figure out how to have conversations around race, health equity, and antiracism with his medical team and patients. He remembered how bad it felt when no one said anything about race-related violence happening outside the hospital walls when he was in training, but now as the attending, he did not know what to say, either.

Seeing this need in medical education, Dr. Essien pitched the idea for the “Racial Disparities in COVID” podcast for Clinical Problem Solvers (CPSolvers), which he hosted alongside student doctor Dereck Paul and Dr. Kimberly Manning.

Momentum built as the team released the first episode with an astounding number of listeners within the first couple of weeks—upwards of 20,000. Following that success, CPSolvers approached Dr. Essien and Mr. Paul about creating a series of podcasts to provide the consciousness and tools for health professionals to be antiracist in their careers, complete with actionable takeaways at the end of each episode.

“I was honored to be invited,” said Dr. Essien, “but also intimidated since to our knowledge there hadn’t been an antiracism-focused medical education podcast.” He anticipated that selecting topics and finding expert guests to make appearances would be a challenge, especially given that CPSolvers is a fully volunteer-based organization.

Now, seven episodes into the CPSolvers “Antiracism in Medicine” series, it is clear that with the support of the CPSolvers team and co-producer Dereck Paul (UCSF), Dr. Essien has produced a successful podcast series with high-profile guest experts that fills a long-standing gap in medical education.

“We’re able to bring in experts who may not have time to give a formal one-hour lecture about their area of expertise, but they can hop on a zoom call with us and not have to prepare formal remarks. They can just speak about their area of focus and be genuine, to talk beyond the results and discussion of their research papers as well as get at what brought them to this work,” said Dr. Essien.

Dr. Essien enjoyed hosting the first podcast of the series for the opportunity to learn from the guests and reflect on their responses to pose thoughtful follow-up questions. Knowing what to ask and what listeners need is a skill that Dr. Essien developed through listening to other podcasts and how his colleagues ask questions.

Though Dr. Essien and Mr. Paul still plan to host on occasion, most of their time is devoted to their roles as co-producers: deciding what guests to invite; selecting timely topics; writing scripts to guide the conversations; creating in-depth, research-filled show notes; and promoting and branding on social media.

“We started with what we needed in our own training and what we need now in our clinics and in the hospital,” said Dr. Essien. “Then, we have gone from there.”

The podcast introduces the language listeners can use to speak about race and racism with medical students as well as with patients in the hospital or in clinic. Often interchanged words like race, genetics, and ancestry are defined to provide a common ground for discussions.

CPSolvers contributor Dr. Michelle Ogunwole, a GIM research fellow at Johns Hopkins, noted that sometimes Black health equity researchers feel a disproportionate burden to teach antiracism fundamentals. This “Antiracism in Medicine” podcast series can serve as primer to learners, a concrete record of the work being done that others can build off in their own work. 

“The podcasts provide the opportunity and space to reflect on why this work is important,” said Dr. Ogunwole. Inspired by the first podcast of the series, Dr. Ogunwole shared one such reflection on Twitter and recently published a perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine. “Although the emotional weight of persistent health inequities can be a lot to bear, these podcasts are a way to take part in solution building and to find community among others who yearn for justice.”

For the second episode, Edwin Lindo, JD, discussed race as a social construct and what that means within clinical spaces for part of three “Dismantling Race-Based Medicine” themed episodes, the first of which focused on “Historical and Ethical Perspectives.” These episodes are aimed at providing initial, basic training.

“Our goal is to provide listeners with the tools and consciousness to be antiracist in their health profession career,” said Dr. Essien. “If someone asks, ‘What does race mean in medicine?’ we want to be able to say, ‘Here is the episode you can listen to.’”

Other episodes target specific current events, such as the conversation with the Atlantic science writer Ed Young, who discussed structural inequities around COVID-19 and vaccine hesitancy. A recent episode featuring Drs.  Giselle Corbie-Smith and Kimberly Manning expounds on the topic: “Racism, Trustworthiness, and the COVID-19 Vaccine.” The strength of this series comes from going beyond how mainstream podcasts and conversations outside of medicine talk about race and racism to focus on medical education—specifically targeting and training medical students, residents, fellows, and even attendings listening in.

In the past, the work of discussing racism as a public health crisis was limited to editorials and peer-reviewed publications, but learners are increasingly turning to other forms of media. Podcasts provide opportunities not only to multitask while learning, such as running or preparing dinner, but also personal stories and connections from voices in the field delivering powerful, data-heavy, evidence-based discussions.

The role of podcasts for racial justice within graduate medical education is discussed fully in a recent Journal of Graduate Medical Education publication in which Dr. Essien collaborated with Drs. Salmaan Kamal, Shreya Trivedi, and Saman Nematollahi. The article highlights several other podcasts—including The Nocturnists' series Black Voices in Healthcare, Woke WOC Docs, The Praxis, and Flip the Script—that have stepped into the role of training an antiracist medical workforce.

The authors conclude: “Just as chronic diseases require long-term therapies, podcast series dedicated to antiracism can sustain the conversation and practice that is essential to combat institutional inertia and catalyze the implementation of antiracist policies and practices necessary for societal change.”

Podcasts are still a relatively new entry into the field of academic medicine and medical education. With national listenership and recognition, the benefits and possibilities are endless. Dr. Essien noted that in addition to crediting the University of Pittsburgh, producing, hosting, and appearing on podcasts are also opportunities to feature our trainees, learners, faculty—highly valuable all around.

Just as the podcasts are created for all levels of learners, the contributing team members range levels of training, including students, residents, fellows, and attendings. “Dr. Essien and Mr. Paul set the tone as leaders that everyone has a voice in planning for the podcasts,” said Dr. Ogunwole, describing a flat rather than hierarchal team structure. Additional members of the CPSolvers “Antiracism in Medicine” series include Naomi Fields, Rohan Khazanchi, Lashyra Nolen, Chioma Onuoha, Jazzmin Williams, and Dr. Jennifer Tsai.

The CPSolvers “Antiracism in Medicine” series continues this month with a conversation on global health equity and COVID-19 with guest experts Dr. Paul Farmer, Co-Founder of Partners in Health and author of the book “Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History” and Dr. Michelle Morse, the newly appointed Chief Medical Officer of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“So far, we have great content planned through July,” said Dr. Essien. “We’re excited to see where it goes.”

If you have suggestions of topics for upcoming episodes, you can contact Dr. Essien or Mr. Paul.

April 2, 2021 • Michelle Woods