School of Medicine

Dr. DeNorval Unthank Endowed Lectureship in Health Equity

With the generous support and vision of Drs. William and Nathalie Johnson, in partnership with OHSU, Legacy Health System and Moda Health.

See also: Marquam Talks Mark O. Hatfield Lecture

2018: Getting to Health Equity

David R. Williams, Ph.D., M.P.H., Harvard University

Feb. 28, 2018

In Oregon, members of underserved communities are more likely to be diagnosed with, and suffer disproportionately from, such chronic illnesses as asthma, diabetes, hypertension and HIV/AIDS and to die prematurely from these and other causes. These broad, persistent disparities are neither mysterious nor pre-ordained. They are driven by factors that include unconscious bias in our health care system. David R. Williams, Ph.D., M.P.H., will discuss the forces fueling such inequities and how to intervene, making Oregon – and America – healthier for all. 

Dr. Williams is the Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Professor of African and African American Studies and Sociology at Harvard University.

His scholarship in the complex ways in which socioeconomic status, race, stress, racism, health behavior and religious involvement can affect health is internationally recognized. The Everyday Discrimination Scale he developed is among the most widely used measures of discrimination in health studies around the world.

Read a recap of Dr. William's visit on the OHSU News hub

Dr. DeNorval Unthank (1899-1977)

Dr. DeNorval Unthank was among the first African American physicians in Oregon and the only black physician practicing in Oregon in the 1930s.

Dr. Unthank moved to Portland in 1929. He became the first black member of the Portland City Club in 1943 and co-founded the Portland chapter of the National Urban League in 1945. Exclusionary housing practices and attitudes caused his family to move four times before settling in 1952 in the Albina District, which became the heart of Portland's African American community after a 1948 flood destroyed the Kaiser shipyard workers housing community of Vanport.

Unthank and his wife, Thelma Shipman, had five children: DeNorval Jr. (1929–2000), James, Lesley, Thelma (1940–2009), and Thomas. A park, a health clinic and a senior living facility in the Boise Neighborhood (also in the Albina District) were dedicated in his name.

The donors and the partnership

In early 2017, Brian Gibbs, Ph.D., former OHSU vice president for equity and inclusion, and John Hunter, M.D., CEO of the OHSU Health System and then-interim dean of the OHSU School of Medicine, envisioned a lectureship that would concentrate institutional and community focus on health equity and amplify the work of OHSU under the leadership of OHSU President Joe Robertson.

They approached William Johnson, M.D., president of Moda Health, and Nathalie Johnson, M.D., medical director or the Legacy Breast Cancer Institute. The Drs. Johnson came to recognize the inequities in our health care system during their childhoods, Dr. Nathalie Johnson on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, and Dr. William Johnson in Los Angeles. 

The Drs. Johnson embraced the opportunity to endow the lectureship through the OHSU Foundation, together with Legacy Health and Moda Health, and name it for Dr. DeNorval Unthank.

"We have felt an urgency to bring the community together to understand the human and the financial costs of health disparities and the forces, including implicit bias in our health care system, which fuel them," said Dr. Nathalie Johnson. "Because it is only as a community that we will solve them."

William E. Johnson, M.D., F.A.C.S., M.B.A., trained as a vascular surgeon and is now senior vice president at Moda, Inc. and president of Moda Health.

Nathalie M. Johnson, M.D., F.A.C.S., is medical director of Portland's Legacy Cancer Institute and  an OHSU clinical professor of surgery.