Omaha North High Viking and Omaha native Sheritta Strong acts as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer at UNMC

Anne Rogers, Managing Editor

Sheritta Strong, MD is the current Inclusion and Diversity officer at UNMC and has been a member of the Omaha community for her entire life. In the 90’s, Strong attended and graduated from Omaha North High. 

Dr. Strong did everything she possibly could at North High. She played basketball and volleyball, ran track, competed in DECA, was a member of student council, African American history club, and French club, and was even nominated to homecoming court her senior year. 

“High school was my escape, because things in my household weren’t the most sound. So I just, I loved school, I thrived at school,” said Strong. 

Even in high school, Dr. Strong knew she would be either a doctor or a lawyer. But at the time, North barely had any classes related to medicine. Despite having a less focused course-load, Strong still took advantage of her available options. 

“I took honors classes, of course, honors and AP classes, I did all of that. I knew I was smart, and, I ended with a 4.4 GPA,” said Strong. 

After graduating in 1995, Strong enrolled in the University of Nebraska at Omaha. However, during college, her living situation became more unstable. 

“I was living with my dad, step-mother, brothers, and my little sister; and during college I ended up living with my mother, and then my aunt; and then I got an apartment in South Omaha, where lived for two years,” said Strong. 

When Dr. Strong started living independently she began receiving rental assistance. At first, the assistance covered a portion of her rent, and eventually it covered all of her rent. 

“Some of those programs that are out there are literally there to get people on their feet. So for me, being on OHA assistance for those two years was very, very, helpful, because I didn’t have family support. My parents weren’t able or willing to help in any way,” said Dr. Strong. 

After graduating from UNO, she enrolled in the University of Nebraska Medical Center for medical school. 

Dr. Strong said that medical school was difficult “on so many levels,” but it was particularly hard as one of the few Black students in the program. 

“Being in a class of a hundred and thirty or so students when you’re one of the only ones that looks like you? That does something,” said Dr. Strong. 

Dr. Strong had been in similar situations at both North and UNO, but it felt completely different in medical school. 

“Even some of my classes at North, weren’t that diverse, including some of the AP classes, but I still felt like I belonged. I still had some identity. But when I came to UNMC, it does a number on you,” said Dr. Strong. “Nothing has been as hard as that first year of med school.” 

After graduating from medical school at UNMC, Dr. Strong began her residency at St. Joseph Hospital through Creighton University. By this time, she was married and pregnant with her first son. 

“I got my first choice, which was staying in Nebraska,” said Dr. Strong. Others who had graduated from UNMC had gotten placed in residency programs that were not their first choice, meaning some had to live away from spouses. 

After completing her residency, Dr. Strong decided to stay at UNMC, where she has worked since 2008 as a psychiatrist. 

As an Omaha native, she feels connected to many of her patients. 

“Omaha is small; I’ve been here a long time,” said Dr. Strong. “Especially with my Black patients, I always make sure to tell them that our visits are confidential, because I might know your people.” 

She says that this helps her connect to her patients in “a confidential way” that allows her to feel more familiar with them.  However, as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) officer, Dr. Strong can connect to people in an entirely different way. 

“When I can connect with DEI, that’s connecting broadly with people,” said Dr. Strong. “Diversity work is changing the lives of people on a larger scale.” 

She finds this exciting because she can help systems as well as individuals. 

However, despite the fact that Dr. Strong likes her position now, when she was first offered the position, she declined. 

“I wasn’t trained to be a diversity officer, I was like ‘I’m good doing what I’m doing, I’m good,’” said Dr. Strong. 

She had actually been a part of the search committee for a diversity officer for UNO and UNMC, but the search had failed.  She was later offered the position, and Dr. Strong has acted as UNMC’s DEI officer since February of 2020. 

“Often times, when we talk about diversity and inclusion, we are looking at the other side, and a lot of this work is actually looking inward at how we interact with the world,” said Dr. Strong. 

She describes entering the field of academic medicine at UNMC because she wanted variety; and the new position gives her more of this. 

“I thought, ‘This would be a major game-changer for my career if I decide to do this,’ and here we are a year later,” said Dr. Strong. 

Throughout her entire life, she has always found Omaha to be a supportive community. 

“Between Omaha North, and even UNO, it’s kind of a smaller community. You know, I’ll go visit Omaha North now, even though the teachers don’t know me like they used to,” said Dr. Strong.  

Currently, both of her sons attend North High, and Dr. Strong still maintains friendships from her time as a student there. 

“I always feel that connection to North, always,” said Dr. Strong.