Davis named CEO at National Medical Fellowships

To lead organization committed to helping people of color become doctors and health care professionals

Former RWJBarnabas Health executive Michellene Davis was named the new CEO of National Medical Fellowships, the group announced Thursday.

NMF, one of the country’s first diversity organizations, was founded 75 years ago with a vision and a mission to change the face of health care by supporting underrepresented minority aspiring physicians and health care professionals.

Headquartered in New York City and New Orleans, with regional offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., NMF operates on a global scale. It has provided more than $40 million in scholarships and grants to increase the pipeline for minority medical students to enter the health care workforce.

Davis will lead the organization as an advocate for eliminating health care disparities and advancing health equity by attaining better, more equitable health care outcomes and diversified health care workspaces all over the country.

Among her initial tasks will be:

  • To accelerate NMF’s fundraising activities to provide more significant scholarship and other educational assistance to underrepresented minority medical students;
  • To expand the scope of the organization’s programs to include training of underrepresented minority physicians to participate in clinical trials as principal investigators, as part of the effort to diversify patient participation in clinical research.

Davis, a nationally recognized, award-winning health equity innovation strategist and senior policy executive, said NMF’s role has never been more important.

“At a time when a global pandemic has magnified the impact of historical structural and systemic inequities and the world’s reliance on the essentials who are often the most vulnerable, the mission of NMF is more poignant than ever,” she said. “NMF is dedicated to increasing access to care with doctors and health care professionals that look like the communities they serve.”

Dr. Sandra B. Nichols, a senior vice president for health inclusion at UnitedHealth Group and the chairman of the board at NMF, said Davis is a perfect fit for the role.

“Michellene’s experience, passion and unique perspective of the health care ecosystem will be a tremendous asset to building the new pipeline of physician leadership and to furthering NMF’s mission of ‘changing the face of health care’ to reflect and serve our diverse nation,” she said.

The numbers show the challenge.

Only 6% of U.S. physicians are from underrepresented minority populations. NMF feels this is not for lack of talent, but lack of resources and access.

Costs related to medical education can exceed $300,000, a significant majority borrowed by students and their families, presenting a significant barrier for most underrepresented minority students.

Working with U.S. medical schools, NMF is committed to reducing these barriers and facilitating attainment of the goals and dreams of so many students to become physicians. NMF is also dedicated to providing medical students from underserved communities training for leadership roles not only in clinical care, but also in public policy, health services research and health care administration.

NMF is expanding its list of partners to help in the effort.

In 2020, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation announced a $100 million, five-year partnership with NMF to train and develop clinical investigators and researchers who are racially and ethnically diverse.

This year, NMF will initiate a similar program to train underrepresented minority physicians as clinical investigators, with support from the Janssen division of Johnson & Johnson and Merck.

NMF feels better understanding of the safety and efficacy in minority as well as majority patients and populations of new pharmaceutical, biologic and vaccine, and medical device products should improve health equity for all.

Davis, long a thought leader and activist for racial and social justice, told ROI-NJ this role will help her put her words into action.

“The pandemic only magnified the inequities long held in our society,” she said. “I wanted to do more than issue a statement to move the dial forward in eliminating health disparities, and NMF is the only organization in the country doing so in this manner.

“I’m excited to continue and elevate their legacy.”

The legacy is extensive. The group counts more than 32,000 physician alumni of color.

Davis said she is honored to take lead the lead.

“I’m humbled and honored to bring my quest for racial and social justice in medicine to National Medical Fellowships,” she said. “The organization’s 75-year history of advancing health equity by supporting diversity in physician leadership is needed now more than ever before.”