From a young age, Dr. Kevin Williams looked to his father as a role model. Back in 1952, his father became the third African American physician in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, despite barriers and discrimination faced by Black professionals in the medical field.
By eight years of age, Williams started going on house calls and hospital rounds with his dad. At 14, he started covering for his father’s receptionist and nurse during her summer vacations. Through those experiences, he got to see first-hand how his father treated people and put his patients first. The die was cast. Kevin knew he would become a physician too.
When we sat down on The Caring Economy, Williams acknowledged the role of his father in shaping his career.
After completing his undergraduate degree in Louisiana and coming out as a gay man, Williams attended medical school in Los Angeles and then completed a Master’s degree in public health. His research focused on access to care for HIV positive patients just as the HIV AIDS crisis was unfolding. Williams was determined to serve his community, treating people who were critically ill in their 20s and 30s – his peers — at a time when they should have been thriving.
“The work that I did while in practice; I’ll probably never do anything more important in my life,” Williams reflected during our conversation.
Yet, when HIV AIDS became more of a chronic disease than death sentence, thanks to advances in research and treatments, Williams reached another inflection point in his career. As patients began to do better, his practice changed towards general internal medicine and he felt the need to do more to serve his community.
As the dynamics of serving his patient community changed, he changed as well. He entered Harvard Law School, with the goal of getting involved in healthcare policy, followed by a move to New York City where he found a field-based medical role in HIV at Pfizer. He was skeptical at first because, “I was taught the pharmaceutical industry was the dark side.”
But he was fascinated by the power of the corporate world, and the potential for businesses to make a difference in the lives of people. He signed on, joined the multibilliondollar company, and has thrived over the past 19 years.
Pharma gets a bad rap at times. But the industry’s contribution in moving AIDS from a disease with no treatments to the status of a chronic disease in just 20 years is praiseworthy. In addition, he also cites Pfizer’s Covid commitment, wherein the company puts all resources behind the same to bring a vaccine to the world in nearly one year.
“Pfizer does a tremendous amount of philanthropic work … Seeing the work they do in matching grants for employees, providing services globally and donating medicine [it is significant]. We don’t’ publicise because it sounds self-serving but there’s a lot we do.”
“Our purpose is where it begins – delivering solutions that save lives,” Williams notes. “Our goal is better health for everyone everywhere. So, we focus on issues that are broader than drugs. It includes funding efforts around healthy equity, disparities, education, social status. Things that influence health that may not be disease related.”
Having focused on community throughout his career, Williams leads the charge for his Pfizer team globally in understanding the perspectives of patients and physicians, identifying unmet needs, and bringing that information into the organisation.
He and his team create two-way communication between people living with diseases and people working to discover and share the breakthrough science that will help them.