Russell Ledet Is Working to Combat Racial Disparities in Health Care

TV: After the Ph.D., you accepted a full-ride scholarship to move back to Louisiana for a combined MD and MBA at Tulane University. What were you looking to become?

RL: For the first time, I realized I had the possibility to be a community leader. If I’m going to be a community leader, I’m going to be a community leader in the community where I came from.

TV: It’s such a journey. You are back in the same hospital where you were once a security guard. But you are no longer outside on the ramp; you are now inside, climbing the academic ramp as a medical student. What does that feel like?

RL: I was thinking about this the other day. I was sitting at my computer desk, exactly where I’m at now, crying my eyes out. I’m going back to the exact same hospital where I was once a security guard. Now, the security guards will be escorting me, and I’m gonna get to go to the [operating room] and be part of the team doing the work. It’s a whole different experience. I don’t need anyone’s permission. I have credentials to go in there. It’s a surreal feeling because I’m also doing it in my state.

TV: How are you processing the push from President Trump to reopen the economy in areas, like Louisiana, that have already been hit hard by COVID-19?

RL: I don’t think that was hard for the president to do because look at who’s most negatively affected by it; people he values the least are people he is going to abuse the most. You know, a disproportionate percentage of the people dying or being affected by COVID-19 are from minority communities.

TV: As you see this, and recognize how much you care about the American people, I know it inspires you to end health disparities in medicine. Where do we begin?

RL: Every person in health care should read Medical Apartheid [by Harriet Washington]. They should know the history of what has propped up a lot of medical progression. Take into account obstetrics and gynecology, which historically experimented on Black women. We can talk about when the first person arrived and spread a virus in the United States, but how about the times we operated on patients without anesthesia? Or the experimental procedures that were done to move forward [with] birth control?

The mistrust in our community around medicine is, to some degree, justified. When we talk about ending health disparities, we need a very socially conscious clinician to build trust back to where we can provide care at the level we have access to in the U.S. If people are noncompliant, it’s possible they don’t trust the system. Clinicians that are not socially conscious can’t interact with patients in a socially conscious way, and that plays a role into how care is given and how care is taken.

TV: As a Black man entering the health care workforce, what have you discovered about yourself, society, and the Black Lives Matters movement?

RL: I’m proud of the Black Lives Matter movement giving my children an opportunity to participate in social justice movements. This social unrest has been the most jarring personally because I realize, right now, it is normal for my children to turn on the TV and watch an international viewing of someone who looks like them being murdered. That’s some conditioning that I was never prepared to have to shield my children from, and it’s numbing. I’ve had my daughter ask me, “Dad, can that happen to you?”

My wife is adamant that when I’m in my car, I have my stethoscope, school ID, and my white coat, because it might deter the police. That is a societal truth. I always go back to Henry Louis Gates, [the Harvard professor who was arrested entering his own home]. How is this possible?

It’s not a matter of status; it is the culture of policing. This generation is going to police the police.

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