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Zicklin Doctoral Candidate Discusses Racial Disparities in Healthcare on CBS News

January 14, 2022

When CBS News was looking for an expert to interview for a segment on why Black women in the United States have three times the risk of dying from pregnancy as white women, it’s not surprising they chose Errol Pierre. Not only is he a senior vice president for state programs at Healthfirst, the largest not-for-profit health insurer in New York State, but he’s about to receive his Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree from the Zicklin School of Business.  

Man in gray jackeet, light blue shirt and blue tie

Errol Pierre (DBA, ’22)

Interestingly enough, Errol was originally going to write his DBA dissertation on racial health disparities like the ones described in the news segment. “I was going to look at the reasons for health disparities among Black men and the concept of ‘ethnic concordance,’ which is the idea that a Black patient is more likely to comply with a doctor’s advice if the doctor is also Black,” Errol says.  

But then “COVID threw a curveball,” he adds. “Because of the shutdowns, I couldn’t carry out the research I needed to do, so I had to pivot.”  

Zicklin News spoke with Errol recently about his research and his experience in the DBA program.  

Zicklin News: Why did you decide to get a DBA?  

Errol Pierre: The focus of the DBA program is applied research. As someone who’s worked in healthcare for 18 years, I rely on research to make decisions, and because of my personal background I started to notice gaps. My parents are immigrants from Haiti and knowing their healthcare needs as minorities in this country made me want to see more data about healthcare among immigrant populations and other vulnerable groups. Another motivation was to add my voice to the research. When you look at the experts and thought leaders in healthcare, they’re not as diverse as they could be.   

ZN: Why did you choose the Zicklin School of Business?  

EP: The Zicklin School has an awesome reputation in the business world and the DBA is part of Executive Programs, so it’s designed for busy high-level professionals like me. With my work schedule, I couldn’t attend a full-time program during the day. I needed more flexibility.  

ZN: What’s the topic of your dissertation?    

EP: As we discussed, I had to pivot because of COVID. I ended up doing an analysis of immigration policy and how people’s immigration status impacts whether or not they use the healthcare system. I looked at the Public Charge Rule passed by the Trump Administration, which tied healthcare to immigration status. (It has since been suspended.) This rule said that the use of government healthcare programs such as Medicaid by any immigrant, whether they were a permanent resident or not, could be used as grounds for later denying them U.S. citizenship or even deporting them.  

ZN: What did you find? 

EP: The before-and-after differences were very stark. After the new rule was implemented, not only did non-citizens disenroll from government healthcare programs at an exponential rate, but they also used healthcare services much less.  

ZN: What have you learned in the DBA program that’s helped you in your career?  

EP: I’ve learned a lot about data analysis—how to glean insights from big data—and how to properly carry out research, using sound methodologies, peer review, and so forth. I’ve also learned that it’s important to stay focused on the intended audience. This isn’t just research for the sake of research. What will you put in place to impact the problem you’re trying to solve? That’s a concept I use every day on the job.  

ZN: Who have been your most memorable professors in the DBA program?  

EP: Without a doubt, my two dissertation advisors, Alex Mills and Cynthia Thompson. I was very lucky to benefit from Prof. Mills’ background in data analysis, and Prof. Thompson taught me everything I know about the theory that informs how management is taught.  

ZN: Do you have any advice for potential students who might be considering getting a DBA degree?  

EP: I’d tell them they need a clear reason for going back to school. They can’t be doing it just to get a degree for the name or for a promotion at work. In my case, I wanted to be able to ask better questions when looking at healthcare data and to be able to add to the research on health disparities. That’s what helped pull me through the darkest times and the frustrations I experienced along the way.  

ZN: What’s next for you?  

EP: Eventually, I plan to return to my original dissertation topic on healthcare disparities among Black men and bring it to fruition, with help from my Zicklin advisors. But right now I’m focused on teaching health economics as an adjunct instructor in the Zicklin Executive MBA in Healthcare Administration program. It’s an honor and a privilege to teach for my soon-to-be alma mater, and I’m excited to give back to my school in this way.  

Watch Errol’s CBS News interview here