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Ala Stanford speaks at AAP National Conference

Plenary speaker shares how she put health equity into action

October 22, 2023

Editor’s note: The 2023 AAP National Conference & Exhibition is taking place from Oct. 20-24 in Washington, D.C. For coverage, visit and follow @AAPNews on Facebook and at

Ala Stanford, M.D., FACS, FAAP, believes she has saved more lives in parking lots than she did as a surgeon in an operating room.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic when testing was scarce, Dr. Stanford, a pediatric surgeon in the Philadelphia suburbs, heard about people from all walks of life being turned away.

“Not only was I seeing this dichotomy with those who had means and education and insurance, we were also seeing it with those who didn’t, but the commonality was the color of their skin,” she said Sunday during her plenary address “Health Equity in Action,” at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition.

Alarmed by the high rates of COVID-19 infection among people who are Black and children who are uninsured, she founded the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, which used a mobile unit to provide COVID testing and vaccination to underserved Philadelphia communities. The group served more than 100,000 people and vaccinated more Black Americans in Philadelphia than any other U.S. city by percentage, according to Dr. Stanford.

“It was all because we were intentional. We went to people. … because we recognize the history, we recognize there’s mistrust, but our lens was that the health care system has been untrustworthy as opposed to people don’t trust the health care system, and there’s a difference with that perspective,” she said.

When people started turning to the consortium for other health needs, she used the revenue she had generated to create the Dr. Ala Stanford Center for Health Equity, which cares for people of all ages and provides an array of physical and behavioral health services. No patients are turned away.

After she got the attention of the White House, federal officials sent Federal Emergency Management Agency staff to help her COVID-19 efforts, and she turned her attention to traveling to schools to vaccinate children and teens. Shortly after, she was appointed to be a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regional director in April 2022.

Dr. Stanford used her experiences to create five steps to achieving health equity:

  1. Acknowledge inequity exists.
  2. Believe inequity exists.
  3. Identify what you can do as a pediatrician or subspecialist to reduce and eliminate bias.
  4. Act
  5. Share what worked and what didn’t.

“I hope that one thing I said gives you an opportunity of something you can do to be impactful, even more impactful in your communities,” Dr. Stanford said, “And for all of us to step out of our boxes, our exam rooms, our hospitals, our ORs and really shape the lives of the children we have the privilege to serve every day.”

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