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The Ford School of Public Policy hosted an event to discuss moving toward equitable health care on Wednesday. The event featured Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a Ford School Towsley Foundation policymaker in residence and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and was part of Ford’s Public Policy and Institutional Discrimination series. The series is led by various faculty members on a range of topics related to the intersection of U.S. public policy and discrimination. 

El-Sayed has past experience as a health care activist, physician and health commissioner for the city of Detroit. He told attendees that he hoped they would understand the impacts of privilege on health care.

“I think a lot of folks don’t really quite appreciate what actually shapes people’s health, in that it’s a lot bigger than health care,” El-Sayed said. “I want folks to understand that. And so much of who gets to have a long healthy life and who doesn’t has to do with the resources that they have in their lives.”

El-Sayed also spoke about creating more equitable health care, mentioning that health justice is related to solving other systemic inequalities.

“The nature of our health care system is that it’s profoundly unequal by design,” El-Sayed said. “Unless we take that on, then we really won’t be able to achieve the ends that we have toward justice and equity in health.”

El-Sayed continued to discuss the social determinants of health and the inequalities of the health care system. He specifically emphasized the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on minorities and those of lower economic status and how it highlighted a need for change within the health care system.

Michigan Medicine general surgery resident Mary Shen attended the event and said she thinks it is important for medical providers to acknowledge the factors that impact the health of their patients.

“I feel like as a physician (it) is incredibly important to have an understanding of normally treating individuals,” Shen said. “But also having an understanding of the structural issues that my patients may be facing that may not be able to be solved in the operating room.”

Shen said her biggest takeaways from the event were having a broader perspective when treating patients and making sure doctors and providers are involved in discussions about the health care system.

Public Policy junior Irving Peña also attended the event and said he was inspired by the work El-Sayed has been doing, mentioning that he wants to work with health care policy in the future.

“(El-Sayed’s work) is really inspiring because he is working in the policy area that I’m hoping to one day,” Peña said. “I actually came into college as a pre-med, but after being exposed to public health and actually having the term social determinants of health coined for the first time in my life, I realized that I instead wanted to have an impact on the health care system.”

Peña noted that his main takeaway from the event was that problems with health care go beyond insurance, and systematic policy change is needed to address the inequalities. 

“I think when you think health and health care, you often hear about health insurance and actual medicine,” Peña said. “But public health, which Dr. El-Sayed also talked a lot about, is actually a good intervention (outside of) medicine itself.”

Daily News Contributors Carly Brechner and Emma Moore can be reached at and