In this episode of Diversity Be Like, host Sequoia Houston talks to Dr. Jessica Isom, a racial health equity champion and clinical psychiatrist at the University of Yale. Dr. Isom uses her position as a black physician to impact change in the healthcare industry and do away with racial biases!

Show Notes

About Our Guest

Dr. Jessica Isom, MD, MPH

Yale School of Medicine, Clinical Instructor

Dr. Isom is a community psychiatrist, racial equity and justice advocate, medical educator, writer and public speaker. She focuses on improving access to high quality care for BIPOC patients with a specific focus on the Black community. Her medical education and community based teaching is grounded in public health approaches to racial disparities, illuminating medical racism and the need to address racial bias in medical decision making. Her presentations at the local, state-wide and national level have centered these topics in an effort to raise awareness and drive structural changes in psychiatric practice.

Twitter: @DrJessIsomMDMPH

LinkedIn: Jessica Elizabeth Isom


3 Key Points

  1. Only 13% of the American population is black, and that means that black physicians are few and far between, making it difficult for black people to experience a doctor of the same racial group.
  2. For many people, curious inquiries regarding race and ethnicity feel innocent because they don’t consider the impact that they are having on other people.
  3. The medical profession has conditioned patients to be ignorant and do what they’re told. Dr. Isom educates her patient about what they should expect from the visit so the hospital can be held accountable.


Episode Highlights

  • Through a CNA certification program in high school, Jessica first got it in her head that she wanted to be a physician
  • Studies show that patients are more likely to trust their physicians if they are of the same race, yet most black patients do not have access to black doctors
  • It’s natural for people to blame others when things go wrong, and that poor sense of cultural awareness is something that has spread into the physician-patient relationship
  • Most people of medicine are not able to talk about diversity and inclusion practices at an advanced level but do recognize the problem exists
  • If last year taught the world anything, it’s that being not racist is not enough and people need to be actively antiracist
  • Anti-racism needs to be organized in order to make a real difference, rather than trying to put out fires all over
  • Dr. Isom finds it difficult to respond to biased or defensive comments in the moment and recommends that you prepare yourself beforehand
  • In the world of medicine, there is a hierarchy and the most offensive people are at the top of that hierarchy
  • Dr. Isom recently self-published her article, When Antiracism Becomes Trauma, in order to skip over the white supremacist hoops of the media
  • It seemed like it was impossible to get away from everything that happened last year with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor
  • When you think of your curiosity through the lens of being trauma-informed, you can be less reckless and harmful towards the people you are inquiring about
  • No one should feel entitled to just exist and we should all stay aware of the impact of our words and actions on the people around us
  • Doctors should make a point to ask for accurate feedback from all of their patients in order to adjust their practices in the best manner
  • Across the country, many of the hospitals that have been placed in the inner cities act as training institutions with inexperienced students
  • Sequoia’s mother is a survivor of breast cancer and even at the upstanding facility where she received treatment, they witnessed racial disparity
  • Black people tend to put themselves through a sort of mental gymnastics to explain away obviously-racist behaviors from others
  • There is a stereotype in the medicinal community that black people feel less pain or will get addicted to pain medication, which deters them from reporting the pain
  • For physicians to hold all the power in the clinical relationship, patients must be ignorant to a certain level, but there are resources to put the knowledge in the hands of the patients
  • Dr. Isom tries her best to inform and educate patients about what they should expect from their hospital visit
  • Older generations have a different perspective and opinion when it comes to medical expectations and complaining about a lack of quality in their treatment
  • The danger that exists today when it comes to talking about racism openly is different than it was 40-years-ago
  • Different organizations, such as the American Psychiatric Association, are working on shifting their perspectives to increase diversity and battle biases
  • There are many people that need to be removed from the healthcare industry in order to see real change in the healthcare that is provided to black people
  • Choices are made by those with power and influence that result in shorter life expectancies for those in certain neighborhoods
  • Dr. Isom hopes that when she leaves this world, people remember that she was one of the people that made a difference for everyone before and after her


Tweetable Quotes

“When you are more like another person, it’s easier to form rapport, you can more easily have trust in that individual and confidence in what they’re recommending to you. It’s the same for race.” – Dr. Jessica Isom

“Diversity is a fact. Equity is a choice. Inclusion is an action. Belonging is an outcome.” – Dr. Jessica Isom

“White people’s curiosity is not harmless. No one’s curiosity is not harmless.” – Dr. Jessica Isom

“Give me access to better air, clean water, more fresh food, and places to live. These are things that deserve.” – Dr. Jessica Isom


Resources Mentioned

Diane Goodman Responding to Biased or Offensive Comments

When Antiracism Becomes Trauma

Flip The Script Podcast

What To Know About The Healthcare Visit