Massachusetts Medical Society: Member Making a Difference - Dr. Ellana Stinson

Member Making a Difference - Dr. Ellana Stinson

Leader and Health Equity Champion, with an Entrepreneurial Bent, Sees No Limits for Physicians

Ellana Stinson, MD, MPH
Dr. Ellana Stinson

Since arriving in Massachusetts in 2013, emergency medicine physician Ellana Stinson, MD, MPH, has made a mark in the state’s health care community. Her diverse portfolio includes restarting the New England affiliate of the nation’s largest organization representing African American health professionals; working in EDs from Northampton to Dorchester and East Boston; and, last year, she served as assistant medical director of the Reggie Lewis Center COVID-19 vaccination site, the first mass site focused on Boston communities of color.

Born and raised in Alabama and Georgia, Dr. Stinson graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta, received her medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, completed residency at Medical College of Georgia, then worked in a Baltimore emergency department.

She arrived in Boston to study public health policy and management. She has since divided her time between ED work; management roles relating to the quality, delivery, and equity of health care; and anti-tobacco activism. She chaired the MMS Young Physicians Committee and serves on the MMS Board of Trustees and Committee on Finance. Dr. Stinson’s entrepreneurial bent and interest in health care finance drive her current pursuit of an MBA at Babson College.

“It all comes together,” she says, “in how people are treated.”

VS: What led you to Boston?

Dr. Stinson: In residency, I was distraught by the disparities I was seeing, although it didn’t have a name at that time. I consistently saw African American women in their 50s coming in with head bleeds from high blood pressure — women who looked like my mother and my grandmother. This was before Obamacare, and many people didn’t have insurance or access to care. I became very interested in health policy. I realized that people behave based on laws and policies, and maybe there were ways to address these disparities through policy. I applied to Harvard School of Public Health. That’s how I landed in Boston. I intended to stay here for one year. That was eight years ago.

VS: How did you get involved with the MMS?

Dr. Stinson: Once in Boston, I worked for the Center for Health Information and Analysis and the Betsy Lehman Center, but I wanted more ways to put my health policy degree to use. I got involved with the MMS to learn about organized medicine and take part in leadership activities. With the MMS, I’ve had so many opportunities to learn, lead, and grow. Work in the policy space with the MMS House of Delegates and with the American Medical Association has been extremely rewarding.

VS: What led you to restart the New England Medical Association (NEMA)?

Dr. Stinson: The National Medical Association, of which we are an affiliate, has played a significant role in advocating for Black physicians and Black patients for over a century. But the New England chapter dissolved in the 1980s. One of my mentors urged me to relaunch it. I was feeling very siloed in Massachusetts, often being the only Black physician in the ED. We have unique needs and issues, including dealing with microaggressions on a daily basis and without a safe space or a supportive group to talk to.

In December 2019, I sent an email to a couple of Black physicians I knew, asking if they knew others, and planned a place to meet. Fifteen people showed up. I asked everyone’s biggest concerns, and we all had the same ones. At that point I knew that we needed to get NEMA back up and running. I asked who wanted to be in leadership roles, people raised their hands, and we’ve been running with it ever since.

VS: How’s it going?

Dr. Stinson: At our first event, a wine tasting in early 2020, an additional 10 doctors showed up who I’d never met. Then COVID happened. Like everyone, we had to figure out the transition to Zoom and kept spreading the word. We also started seeing COVID-19 disparities in the Black communities that none of us were shocked about, and we banded together around that. Then George Floyd was killed. We had a need to create spaces where we could come together and talk about these things that were going on and figure out how we were going to play a role.

We’ve partnered with several large academic centers. Technically, all their Black students, residents, and staff are members, so we have almost 800 people on our list-serve. About 200 have signed up as official members.

VS: How did you come to be assistant medical director at the Reggie Lewis vaccination site last year?

Dr. Stinson: I was the right person in the right place. Because of my role with NEMA, I became involved with the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition (BBCC) to collaborate on a Black History Month program. When BBCC became involved with planning the Reggie site, I hopped on a call with CIC Health, BBCC, and the Mass General Brigham (MGB) team for mass vaccination sites. They were looking for a physician of color who resided in one of the communities they were looking to serve, was an ER physician, and employed by MGB. I raised my hand and said, “Well, that’s kind of everything I do.”

I was excited to work with MGB, CIC Health, and BBCC. It was a moment when various entities that otherwise would not have gotten together did so for the good of the Commonwealth.

VS: Do you see potential for a relationship between the MMS and NEMA?

Dr. Stinson: We’ve had several conversations. I see opportunities that we could explore together, particularly in underserved communities where there is a lack of trust toward the health care system. A physician presence in these communities, in a partnership between Black physicians and other physicians, would be extremely powerful.

VS: You are a member of the MMS Committee on Finance and are now in working on your MBA. What aspect of business interests you?

Dr. Stinson: As physicians, one thing we don’t do very well is understand business and medicine. It’s not taught to us. So, when it comes to leadership and money, we kind of shy away or we pay somebody to do it. I tell other physicians not to be paralyzed by holding yourself solely within health care. Our skills and what we learn in medicine can be translated across so many other spaces. When we don’t realize that, we are limiting ourselves. I tend to lean into everything. I think of the business of medicine as a means to addressing some of the health disparities. Everything I do always goes back to health disparities.

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