“The Healthy Project” podcast tackles health care from a ‘Black and Brown lens’

Corey Dion Lewis founded his popular health podcast, based in Iowa, with no podcasting experience – now he draws top medical guests and listeners from around the globe.

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Clinical Health Coach Corey Dion Lewis expected to focus on topics like healthy eating when he created “The Healthy Project” podcast. But, before he would begin recording the episodes, guests would often share anecdotes about how the health care system had failed or mistreated them – even Black doctors.

“It kind of started as talking about how to eat better and have a healthier diet — to how can we have these conversations around health disparities and health equity and how Black people and Brown people are treated in health care and how can we improve that,” he said.

Not talking about the issues can have dire consequences.

“What I learned through this was Black women, when they have an issue and they present it to their doctor, there is a bias where it gets brushed aside as just complaining,” he said.

Lewis, who works at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines, has spent 10 years of his career working as a health coach in corporate and hospital settings to help people lose weight and manage diseases like diabetes. He earned a bachelor’s degree in interdepartmental studies with a specialization in health coaching in 2009 from the University of Iowa and received training in weight loss and behavior change from Johns Hopkins.

Lewis is not only listening; his podcast is driving the conversations forward.

“I feel an obligation to have these conversations about health disparities and health equity for people in these communities because we don’t talk about it enough,” he said. “And if we can’t fix the conversation, we can’t fix the weight, the disease, nothing — because we can’t get past that block in the conversation — that not hearing or the brushing aside.”

"The Healthy Project" Podcast

Birth of a podcast

Lewis had toyed with the idea of starting a podcast for years. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit in March of 2020.

“I feel like the pandemic has amplified all of it, because it has us really thinking about our health a lot more,” he said. “What the pandemic really hit home for me was, don't wait to take care of yourself, do as much as you can with what you have.”

The lingering pandemic also caused him to think critically about his goals and work to make the podcast happen. He networked with his health coach colleagues on LinkedIn. A friend offered to be his first guest.

“At this time, I had no mic. I had nothing. I just had a date set. So I had to get a mic, he said. “May 4, 2020, my first episode went live and I've been doing it ever since.”

Corey Dion Lewis, Founder, "The Healthy Project" podcast

Lewis just completed his 66th episode. The podcast covers a diverse range of issues and guests. At first, he featured health coaches who specialized in topics like sugar addiction and brain health before pivoting to health equity. He remembers interviewing a Black doctor who “had more credentials behind her name than anybody I’ve ever met” and learned about how she was treated differently as a Black doctor. Recently he interviewed Dr. John Whyte, the chief medical officer for WebMD, about cancer prevention.

The podcast is helping raise awareness about a range of issues, he said.

“I'm still talking about prevention and having these really good conversations, but from a Black and Brown lens. Instead of how can you prevent skin cancer, but how can you prevent skin cancer for Black and Brown people because it presents differently and looks differently in different skin tones,” he said. “Most doctors who aren't Black might not look for it or see it.”

It's also about making systemic changes, such as the need for more Black and Brown people to join research studies and the need for more health professionals of color, he said.

“Those are a lot of the conversations I’m having with my guests,” he said.

He also wants to do even more like host a national conference centered around the issues.

“The Healthy Project is really all about improving the health of the community and you can’t improve anything without having both awkward and uncomfortable conversations for some people,” he said. “This is not an uncomfortable conversation for me. I want to have this conversation."

Why health care must change

Lewis' work is also personal. Before his mother, who has diabetes, moved in with his family in 2019 so he could manage her care, the treatment she received in Illinois could have had devastating consequences. He said her doctor never ordered a diabetic eye exam and had missed swelling in the back of her eyes.

“If they wouldn’t have caught it, my mom would have gone blind,” he said.

Her doctors had failed to offer a variety of other tests and needed interventions, he said. She also hadn’t received a mammogram for more than a decade, and when she received one at Broadlawns Medical Center, a mass was discovered in her right breast. “By the grace of God” it was found in time and she underwent radiation, and now is cancer-free, he said.

“If my mom didn’t come here, we would never have known,” he said.

His mother’s troubling experiences with the health care system also underscores how important it is that Black and Brown patients are heard and listened to by their health care providers, he said. That's why Lewis plans to continue tackling these important topics on his podcast, and he wants listeners and guests to come along on the journey.

“My goal is to talk to these people not only about the issue, but how can we solve it,” he said.

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