Dr. Dinee Simpson Connects Science and Social Justice as the Pritzker Scientist

Parker welcomed Dr. Dinee Simpson as the 13th Annual Robert A. Pritzker Visiting Scientist•Inventor•Engineer in Residence for an enriching lecture this week. Dr. Simpson is the assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Organ Transplantation at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, as well as the founding director of the Northwestern Medicine African American Transplant Access Program, an initiative of the Northwestern Medicine Comprehensive Transplant Center. In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Simpson sits on the board of directors for the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois. She is a recipient of its 2019 Rising Star Award, as well as the 2019 Community She-ro Award from Distinctively Me, a nonprofit organization that serves at-risk girls in the greater Chicago area, and the 2019 ARCC seed grant to help improve disparities among African Americans relevant to kidney disease.

Dr. Simpson’s lecture, “Beyond the Organ Transplant: Connecting Science and Social Justice,” began with “Transplant 101,” when she provided the engaged listeners with a framework of information that explained what transplant surgery is, how tranplants work using the “Plumbing Analogy” and why transplants are so important. Next, Dr. Simpson spoke about her personal path in medicine, discussing how she developed an interest in medicine and what drew her to surgery and transplants specifically. However, as Dr. Simpson described, it was swearing to uphold the Hippocratic Oath when she received her white coat that would lead to further self-introspection as she practiced medicine.

One of the beliefs Dr. Simpson grapples with in the medical community and beyond is the idea that doctors should be “physician scientists, not physician social justice activists.” However, as she began visiting with patients and traveling, she witnessed firsthand many health disparities and inequalities between those with privilege and those without, which led to systematic differences in their health and the care those disenfranchised communities receive. Having taken the Hippocratic Oath to “first do no harm,” Dr. Simpson said, “If I do my job every day, but don’t pay attention to inequities and speak up, I actually am perpetuating harm.” Using kidney disease in African Americans, she showed the audience how groups receive differentiated access to health care, what this looks like specifically and the repercussions this burden places on communities. Her eye-opening data from both the U.S. and Chicago, and her explicit description of the ways barriers to access manifest, helped the audience understand the depth and significance of this problem.

Dr. Simpson said that one doesn’t need to become a doctor or start an outreach program to make a difference. She concluded with the message that change can be “showing respect, listening, displaying courtesy that we would give a family member, acknowledging the disadvantage certain groups can have and recognizing that these disparities are in our backyard.”

Click here for photos from this lecture.

The Robert A. Pritzker Visiting Scientist•Inventor•Engineer in Residence program was created by a gift to Parker in honor of engineer, industrialist and philanthropist Robert A. Pritzker ’44. This program aims to expand science education opportunities at Parker and foster an ongoing dialogue among students and teachers about current issues in science. Previous speakers include Dr. Leon M. Lederman, Dr. Paul Sereno, Dr. Russell Mittermeier and Christina Mittermeier, Dr. Edward “Rocky” Kolb, Dr. Ka Yee Lee, Dr. Don Hillebrand, Dr. Matthew Tirrell, Dr. Elizabeth Gerber, Dr. Sian Beilock, Dr. Wendy Freedman, Dr. Rick Stevens and Dr. Eve Van Cauter.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.