Massachusetts Medical Society: Member Making a Difference - Dr. Simone Wildes

Member Making a Difference - Dr. Simone Wildes

Simone Wildes, MD

Simone Wildes, MD
Simone Wildes, MD

An infectious disease physician with a strong commitment to racial equity in medicine, Simone Wildes, MD, has been much in demand in recent months, including appointments to two high-profile state committees: Governor Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Group.

These volunteer commitments are in addition to her duties as an infectious disease physician at South Shore Hospital in South Weymouth and clinical assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Geographic Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Here, Dr. Wildes shares her experience and views on addressing key issues of 2020 with solutions underway for 2021.

VS: Describe your experience on the Governor’s Vaccine Advisory Group. What was that like?

Wildes: As a committee of such great magnitude, we are tasked with a very complex and complicated issue — determining how to vaccinate the state’s population in the safest and most effective, timely, and equitable way. We had very robust discussions about equity and how to ensure everyone benefits from the vaccines, especially the most vulnerable. The committee members were all very thoughtful individuals, and the chair, Paul Biddinger [director of Emergency Preparedness at Mass General Brigham and an MMS member], made sure that every voice was heard. This is an ongoing effort. We’re continuing to work to refine and improve the plan as we learn more. It is an honor to serve the Commonwealth in this manner, and I’m glad that equity is part of the conversation.

VS: What do you see at the greatest challenge ahead in disseminating the vaccine?

Wildes: Access. There are so many layers to this, so many potential barriers to consider. These barriers have been there all along — transportation, the ability to take time off work, all the social determinants of health — and have resulted in health disparities. Moving forward, I hope this time we will work to find permanent solutions to these persistent problems.

VS: What can physicians do to address vaccine hesitancy?

Wildes: In Black and Brown communities, we need to instill trust and communicate clearly. We need to give information in the clearest way to make sure people know how safe the vaccine is and the value of it.

My church community is 100 percent Black. A significant percentage say they are not getting the vaccine and do not trust their physicians, who are often Caucasian and not someone they identify with. African Americans really appreciate when they hear from someone who looks like them and sounds like them. If there is not a Black physician in the practice, physicians can build strong relationships with people who are respected and trusted in the Black community, particularly pastors and others who get called for advice, who can say, “Based on the knowledge I have, I think it will be good for you to get a vaccine.”

VS: As your church’s health ministry leader, have you gained other insights this year?

Wildes: Every year I do a flu clinic in my community. This year, I also did COVID testing, partnering with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It was incredible to see the number of people who came out. But we didn’t have enough equipment and reagents and people to do the test and had to turn a lot of people away. That was heartbreaking. I knew the importance of the test for these individuals, who live in multi-generational homes and take the bus to jobs as essential workers. They really wanted to be tested. I can’t tell you how many people have called me with questions relating to COVID testing and the lack of testing. There’s an economic disparity here: people who can afford to pay for a test haven’t encountered the same access issues. We need to ensure everyone has access to important public health interventions.

VS: The MMS Committee on Diversity in Medicine, which you chair, sponsored the report “MMS Commitment to Antiracism” that the House of Delegates adopted as MMS policy in December. This dovetails with the MMS Antiracism Action Plan. What does this work mean to you?

Wildes: Since my first involvement in the MMS, my passion has been the Committee on Diversity in Medicine. This year has really moved us to the forefront. We’re working to make sure that there is equity at the MMS — in all we do.

But physicians from underrepresented groups can’t do this on our own. There are so many different areas that we need to look at — including what happens to us at work and whether we are able to move into leadership positions. We’re just as qualified, but we don’t have the opportunities or the exposure that others do. I’m happy that Dr. Rosman has taken this on and done outstanding work in letting all the members know — because some may not have been fully aware of what’s really happening to underrepresented members. So this statement, combined with action items from the Minority Affairs Section, is significant. It’s more than just words on a page. The policy is designed to help ensure diversity and antiracism are woven into MMS policies, activities, and governance.

VS: Have you seen any changes in recent months in how issues of racial equity are viewed in the medical community?

Wildes: I’m glad that issues we’ve been dealing with personally and professionally are now in the spotlight. More people are working to understand and address what we and our patients have been dealing with. Everyone, including my hospital, now seems to have a diversity, equity, and inclusion effort. The momentum is there. But there’s much more to be done. We have to make sure we maintain this attention and effort and hold ourselves accountable for ensuring equity for our colleagues and our patients.

VS: How did you get involved in the MMS?

Wildes: One day, when I was new at South Shore, (former MMS President) Alice Coombs began a conversation about the great work the MMS does in policy and advocacy. I really wanted to give back to the community, so I joined the Committee on Diversity in Medicine. Then I joined the Membership Committee. Subsequently, through the suggestion of another mentor and former MMS president, Ronald Dunlap, I got involved with the Public Health Committee, and I am now vice chair.

It was always my focus to be able to give back beyond my life at the hospital. The Society has given me a great platform to get involved in the things that interest me.

VS: Do you see any unexpected lessons of the pandemic?

Wildes: We are learning so much in such a rapid manner, which has been exciting but exhausting. The pandemic has shown us that we must be nimble. New information on the virus and on interventions is coming so fast, we have to be able to adjust and pivot as soon as data is available. And of course, there are the issues of health disparities. I can’t say these were unexpected, but the attention they received has really highlighted the public health imperative to address the causes of these longstanding health disparities, because we see how they have worsened this pandemic.

Dr. Wildes photo courtesy of South Shore Health

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