Dr. Brian Williams: emerging from silence

November 30, 2016

Dr. Brian Williams addresses hundreds of OHSU staff, students and faculty

Brian Williams, M.D., F.A.C.S., didn't need a PowerPoint or a video for his presentations at OHSU this week. All he needed was a microphone to amplify his voice, the voice of a black man and a Dallas trauma surgeon whose experience treating police officers shot after a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest July 7 catalyzed his need to speak truth to power about racism at a crucial moment in history.

The OHSU Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, the School of Medicine and the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health hosted Dr. Williams, associate professor of surgery, UT Southwestern Medical Center and trauma surgeon at Parkland Memorial Hospital, to contribute to a growing campus dialogue about race, encouraged by students and faculty. 

Hundreds of students, faculty and staff packed campus auditoriums three days in a row to listen as Dr. Williams shared his experiences since boyhood that shaped his frame of mind on the night of the mass casualty in Dallas. It was a night that – after 47 years of deflecting race-based micro-aggressions, exceeding expectations to achieve every trapping of success and working feverishly to save mortally injured police officers – left him against the wall in a deserted hospital hallway, head in hands, crying, a night that led him to speak up during a news conference four days later because he could no longer stay silent.

"The root of all of this is that there is a lack of open and honest discussions about racism in this country," Dr. Williams said. "It is not enough to be a good person if you are silent in the face of social injustice."

Dr. Brian Williams, grand roundsAttendees at Dr. Brian Williams' talk

The reaction to his story was visceral.

"I was incredibly moved," said second-year M.D./Ph.D. student Meredith Boulos. "Sometimes being a medical student can be a very selfish experience, but it's a reminder that this is a life calling and our life will be valued by the people we touch."

Brianna Ennis, second-year M.D. student, said Dr. Williams' visit was "necessary and impactful."

"As an African American medical student, I can't tell you how encouraged I felt seeing my peers nod their heads in agreement, pledging to fight for those who are targeted and demeaned," she said.

"Just because we have become more diverse as a community does not mean that our work is done," she added. "We must now get to know each other, share our cultures, and listen to each other especially when part of our community is suffering from injustice." 

Dr. Brian Williams at all-OHSU talkDr. Williams gave generously of his time during his visit, meeting with faculty and student groups in addition to his lectures. The School of Public Health and the OHSU Center for Diversity and Inclusion hosted a reception and dinner Tuesday evening, including members of the advisory board that is helping to shape OHSU's Stand Together commitment to address gun violence as a public health issue and as a symbol of race-based health disparities, including an OHSU/PSU community forum on Wednesday, Jan. 25.

Christopher Swide, M.D., assistant dean for graduate medical education and among faculty instrumental in inviting Dr. Williams, said he hopes his visit "will open people's minds and continue an important conversation about racism and the impact of racism on communities and find constructive ways to make a change."

George Mejicano, M.D., M.S., senior associate dean for education, School of Medicine, thanked Dr. Williams after he shared his story with health professions students on Tuesday.

"It is truly an honor to hear your story," Dr. Mejicano said. "It is through conversations like this that we can find a path forward."

View the full video of Dr. Williams' all-campus talk.


  • Top: Dr. Williams addresses hundreds of OHSU students, faculty and staff.
  • Middle (left): It was standing room only during Grand Rounds with Dr. Williams on Monday, Nov. 28; (right) Attendees listen intently as Dr. Williams spoke during an all-campus talk on Wednesday, Nov 30.
  • Bottom: Dr. Williams during the packed all-OHSU presentation on Nov. 30.