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Doctor + lawyer = effective advocate
Bryant Cameron Webb, MD (JD '12), an assistant professor of medicine and health sciences at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, has wanted to be a doctor since age five. In an undergraduate anthropology class, he began learning about health disparities based on race and ethnicity. Even controlling for economic and other factors, health outcomes are commonly less positive for minority patients.
“I realized that a legacy of discrimination is manifesting in the way we provide health care,” says Webb, who goes by the name Cameron. “I thought about it as a social justice issue and wanted to have the skill set to be an advocate for change. So I looked to the giants who used the law as a tool, from Thurgood Marshall to Charles Hamilton Houston.”
Webb decided to arm himself for more effective advocacy by earning both MD and JD degrees. After his third year at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, he took a leave from his medical studies to attend Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
“The timing was quite good,” says Webb. “It was 2009, and the national conversation was about how to deliver a health care system that works better for everyone. By that time, I’d had experience taking care of patients, so I was able to contribute that perspective to my classes.”
At Loyola, “I dove in and tried to get all the experience I could,” says Webb, who was a student attorney for the Health Justice Project, editor-at-large of the Annals of Health Law, and intern and consultant for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Health Policy Institute, among other activities.
Now, he says, “I use my moot court experience all the time, in the way I frame an argument, engage folks, and get them to see my perspective,” adding that he also stays in regular touch with former professors including Larry Singer and John Blum.
Webb’s elected term as president of the Student National Medical Association happened to fall during his time as a law student. “I learned the value of organizing for change,” he says, “and decided to found a vehicle for grassroots organization.” EquityRx, a nonprofit working for health equity, brought together interdisciplinary perspectives to screen communities susceptible to health disparities, treat social and structural conditions known to affect health outcomes, and build relationships within communities to advocate for equitable health policies.
After returning to Wake Forest for his last year of medical school, Webb completed his residency and internship at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College. Then, he followed up his unusual educational path with an extraordinary opportunity to influence health policy: a White House Fellowship.
Serving two presidencies
Webb’s fellowship extended across two presidencies, and his responsibilities changed along with the administration. In the Obama White House, he worked on the My Brother’s Keeper initiative addressing opportunity gaps facing young men of color. Valued for his rare breadth of experience, he was also drafted onto the health care team helping various Cabinet agencies coordinate awareness and promotion of open enrollment on the ACA insurance exchanges.
“My perspective on health care policy was really sharpened by that six months in the Obama administration,” Webb says.
After Trump’s inauguration, Webb moved to the Domestic Policy Council. There, he led meetings with health care stakeholders and influencers seeking to engage the Trump administration on issues like drug pricing and opioid addiction.
At the University of Virginia School of Medicine, Webb is director of health policy and equity. His role is a mix of teaching—“My last classroom experience was in law school, so I’m bringing a lot of that teaching style to my non-law students,” he says—and research on Medicaid as a measure of health care quality and equity, as well as clinical practice as an internist.
While he enjoys the multipronged opportunity academia provides to delve into issues and challenges, Webb sees his future path as “bouncing between this space and government, where I can implement some of the things I’ve learned and studied.”
In the short term, he says, “The question over the remaining years of the Trump administration will be how we can help both sides see health policy as an opportunity for cooperation and coordination. My conversations have led me to believe there are real possibilities at the intersection between politics and patient interest.”