Consuelo Wilkins, M.D.

Consuelo Wilkins, M.D., is vice president of Health Equity and associate dean for Health Equity at Vanderbilt University. She recently became co-principal investigator for Vanderbilt’s Institute of Clinical and Translational Science.

Medical researchers can learn about improving healthcare by working with and listening to community members, according to Consuelo Wilkins, M.D., who will deliver the 2019 Homer G. Phillips Lecture at 6 p.m. Friday, October 25 at Washington University School of Medicine in the Eric P. Newman Center, 320 S. Euclid Ave.

Her talk will be titled “Moving from Charity Care to Partnering with Communities to Improve Health.”

“We have to stop thinking about the community as people who are in need of things and that the big academic medical centers have all the power and knowledge and can change lives alone,” said Wilkins, vice president for Health Equity at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, a strategic partnership between Vanderbilt and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We really need to recognize the power and strength and the ideas in the community.”

Her primary responsibilities in the alliance include developing and supporting collaborative initiatives and programs in biomedical research, community engagement and interprofessional learning. 

“If we’re  going to make a difference in health outcomes, these are the people who have the answers – the people who are in the community, who have the lived experience, who know where the assets and resources are, who know why they don’t want to go to certain doctors or hospitals,” Wilkins said. “The community sometimes has a good reason to not trust institutions and providers – because they’re not trustworthy.” 

Before joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 2012, Dr. Wilkins was part of Washington University’s School of Medicine as an associate professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatrics, with secondary appointments in Psychiatry and Surgery (Public Health Sciences). Wilkins was founding director of the Center for Community Health and Partnerships in the Institute for Public Health, co-director of the Center for Community Engaged Research and director of "Our Community, Our Health." She was also the medical accuracy editor at The St. Louis American.

Wilkins said that best examples of successful partnerships between medical schools and communities happen when community organizations and community health centers are driving the agenda and are bringing issues to the hospitals and medical centers.

“In many cities and settings, the academic medical centers and the hospitals aren’t really so open to that. They are more used to controlling the narrative,” she said. “The ones who allow the community to take the lead on some of the programs is where it’s successful.”

She said UCLA is a good example of where community members are brought in on the curriculum and are part of the faculty.

“They have a program where people in the community are teachers, get stipends, they are part of the faculty and they are honored and respected for the vision that they bring to the table and the experience that they share with the trainees,” Wilkins said.

She is also excited about the work being done in Nashville at Vanderbilt and Meharry.

“We’re just launching a new certificate in health equity for the Vanderbilt medical students,” she said, “so that they’ll begin to learn in the community, from the community, about social determinants of health, about issues and challenges and barriers to being healthy, as well as what some of the potential solutions will be.”

Wilkins said she will also talk in St. Louis about the infrastructure program they built for community members, patients, faith leaders, non-researchers and non-healthcare providers to be at the table where decisions are made and to influence those decisions, not just in a tokenistic way.

“But really with the same setting that everybody else has at the table – the same power, the same vote – no different,” Wilkins said. “They are being paid to be at the table, paid as consultants and board members and have all the rights and responsibilities  of other leaders.” She will share some of the metrics in place to measure community impact.

Wilkins will also talk about the pearls of wisdom she gathered from her time at Washington University, working in the community and from her work at The American.

The Homer G. Phillips reception, dinner and lecture is free to attend; however, an RSVP is required by Monday, October 21 by calling (314) 362-6854 or emailing

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