Dr. Dexter Shurney
"There was a tumor on my lungs. They saw it on an X-ray on Friday ... On Monday, the repeat X-ray didn't show it, and CT scans — everything — was negative. I believe that was an answer to prayer."
Narrator: Welcome friends to another episode of The Story and Experience podcast. Join your host, Japhet De Oliveira with his guest today and discover the moments that shape us, our families, and communities.
Japhet De Oliveira: Well welcome friends to another episode of the Story and Experience podcast. I am delighted to have today a unique guest with double titles. You'll see why in a second, because of the world that he works in, two worlds that he works in, that he brings together. So, it's very exciting to have this guest. If you are brand new to the Story and Experience podcast, the way it works is like this. We have a hundred questions, and they start off really easy, and then they get a little bit more complex and nuanced and our guest gets to choose between one and a hundred, which questions they would like to answer, and then we just dive into them. So, it's really exciting because it's just an honest, no preparation kind of conversation, and we'll see where it goes. Without any hesitation, now I'm going to dive in. I see he's smiling, so this is a good sign that he's ready. Let's begin with your name and if you could share with us what you do.
Dexter Shurney: Absolutely. And thanks for having me. I know this is going to be a lot of fun. I've heard you with some of your guests in the past, and so I'm delighted to be here and share in that fun. So, I'm Dexter Shurney. I'm a physician and I'm the Chief Health Equity Inclusion... Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Adventist Health. I also am the president for the Blue Zone Wellbeing Institute, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Adventist Health. Those are my two roles.
Japhet De Oliveira: A few different things that you are merging together there, Dexter. Does anybody ever mess up your name or do they get your name right all the time?
Dexter Shurney: Oh, or what are you talking about? Of course not.
Japhet De Oliveira: Good-
Dexter Shurney: I get called anything and everything. But you know what? They also try to misspell it. They try to put a C in there and there's no C in Shurney.
Japhet De Oliveira: Right. That's fantastic. Well, thank you for sharing that. How long have you been in this current role, these two places?
Dexter Shurney: Well, I've been with Adventist Health almost two years now, so it's been a really nice journey. In this current role, maybe six months, so not as long.
Japhet De Oliveira: Well, that's fantastic. But two years is a good time. Lots of experiences to share, lots of experiences to share for sure. So, moving on with these simple questions, which are just fun ones, just to begin us off. In the morning when you get up, first drink of the day, is it coffee? Is it one of those liquid green smoothies? Is it tea? Is it water? What do you have?
Dexter Shurney: Wow. It's water. Yeah, it's going to be boring because it's water.
Japhet De Oliveira: Do you warm it up a little bit or-
Dexter Shurney: It's room temperature. I actually put about 15 ounces of water next to my bed, and when I get up in the morning, that's what I drink. And what I'm really trying to do is I'm just trying to lubricate my digestive system before I start to put anything else in it, just kind of get it going slowly. And then a little bit later I'll put some food or something else there. But I just start off with water. And that's basically two cups of water. So I'm now on my way of being hydrated for the day. So that's how I do it.
Japhet De Oliveira: And you drink all 15 ounces in one go?
Dexter Shurney: I do. Well, not one gulp, but.
Japhet De Oliveira: Well, I had this conversation with Daniel Wolcott and I got the impression it was 36 ounces he had in one go, and I tried it. It's very hard.
Dexter Shurney: Wow, that's difficult. Yeah, 15, 16, basically two cups. That's good for me.
Japhet De Oliveira: Hey, that's really good.
Dexter Shurney: I'll have to challenge myself to catch up with Daniel.
Japhet De Oliveira: I misunderstood him. He actually, he does drink that much at the start, but it wasn't in all in one sitting. Misunderstood. Yeah, no, that's why I was like, this is very hard. Hey, where were you born?
Dexter Shurney: I was born in Loma Linda, California. I am actually an original blue zone baby. Yeah. Isn't that ironic? I worked for Blue Zones and then I'm a blue zone baby.
Japhet De Oliveira: Actually. I never knew that. That's great. And when you were a little kid, what did you imagine you were going to grow up to be?
Dexter Shurney: Everything and anything except what I am. It's funny. I wanted to be a truck driver.
Japhet De Oliveira: Well, that's definitely a journey.
Dexter Shurney: I was just, the big trucks were so impressive. We lived in a small town in northern California, and behind my house there was a logging road and I would see the big logging trucks with the logs on the back come behind my house and I would go, I would do the, honk the horn kind of thing for the drivers, and me and my friends would be out there and they would honk those horns. And we just thought it was so cool. And we learned the different makes of the different trucks, and that's what I want it to be for a long time.
Japhet De Oliveira: Hey, that's fantastic. There is a certain rumble with those engines that just is-
Dexter Shurney: It really is. Those diesel engines and the smell.
Japhet De Oliveira: That's great. So now, if people were to describe your personality, would they describe you as an introvert, as an extrovert, and would you agree?
Dexter Shurney: Well, I've done the Myers Briggs and sometimes I take it, I'm an introvert. And sometimes I take it, I'm an extrovert, so I really don't know what I am. I guess it just depends on what day you catch me. So I don't know if I can... Yeah. Tell me which day it is and I'll tell you what I am, I guess.
Japhet De Oliveira: Maybe there's some days that we all need a little bit of introvert.
Dexter Shurney: There you go.
Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah, that's good.
Dexter Shurney: I will tell you this. When I'm really trying to do creative things, I need to do that when I'm alone. I don't do that well in crowds. And oftentimes I'm working on strategies, I'm working on innovation, and I need my own personal space to do that. So that's probably when those, that introvert comes in.
Japhet De Oliveira: Hey, that makes sense entirely. Are you an early riser or late night owl?
Dexter Shurney: I am an early riser. Everyone who knows me knows that I'm an early riser. I get up at 4:00 AM. And that goes back to my days, my clinical days of training as a general surgeon and a resident, because you need to get up. You need to make it to the hospital. You need to see your patients before you boarded your cases. And your cases oftentimes were at seven o'clock in the morning, so you needed to see those patients, deal with any issues before that. Even though I don't do rounds any longer, it's just something that has stayed with me. And I really enjoy it now because Japhet, I tell you, that's the time of the day nobody bothers you. That's your own time. You don't have a meeting, you don't have interruptions. And I get some of my best thinking in then, and I love it. So yeah, four o'clock.
Japhet De Oliveira: It's true. It is fantastic. I'm with you on that. I love really early mornings as well.
Dexter Shurney: On the weekends, I sleep in. I sleep in till six o'clock on the weekends.
Japhet De Oliveira: I was going to say, till 4:30? How generous, six o'clock. All right. So this morning when you woke up, what was the very first thought that you went through your mind?
Dexter Shurney: The very first thing that went through my mind when I woke up?
Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah. This morning.
Dexter Shurney: Well, usually what's going to happen for the day? This was a Monday, so what's happening today? What's happening this week? So I often look at my calendar while I'm having my water.
Japhet De Oliveira: Prepping your mind for everything that needs to be done.
Dexter Shurney: Prepping my mind, yeah.
Japhet De Oliveira: No, that's good. That's good. Here's a leadership question. It's the last one of the first group, and then I'm going to hand over to you to pick numbers, which be exciting. As a leadership question, are you a backseat driver?
Dexter Shurney: No, not in the literal sense, not riding in a car. I might be a backseat driver when it comes to other things, but not literally when it comes to driving. No, I'm good.
Japhet De Oliveira: But with leadership, you feel that you could be a backseat driver at times?
Dexter Shurney: Sometimes it's hard not to. We always think we have maybe a better way to build a mousetrap.
Japhet De Oliveira: Get more cheese. All right.
Dexter Shurney: Yeah, there you go.
Japhet De Oliveira: Okay. So where would you like to go? Remembering, starting at 11 all the way through to a hundred, where would you? You can go up and down.
Dexter Shurney: So, we're at about 10 now, right?
Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah. We've just done the first 10. Real easy.
Dexter Shurney: Well, let's start at 50.
Japhet De Oliveira: All right. Love it. Here we go. Share about who has influenced you professionally.
Dexter Shurney: Oh, wow. That's a great question. I've had many influential people in my life, and the one thing I will say is that it wasn't probably one person, and I have to give credit to many people. Probably the first person was when I was at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, I worked for the chief medical officer. His name was Frank McDivit. And he was an older gentleman, and I worked with him for a number of years, maybe three or four years. And I helped him with strategy, I helped him with policy. And when he decided to retire at 65. They had mandatory retirement. He recommended that I become the chief medical officer for the whole system, for the whole plan. Four million members, one of the larger plans in the country.
And it was basically on his recommendations that I became the Chief Medical Officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield, Michigan. Because he had allowed me to do strategy, I had to make those presentations to the board of directors. I had, and our board included the Michigan State Medical Society, the UAW, the Teamsters, a very large board, about 36 individuals. And it was my job to make sure that everybody was on the same page. And I learned a lot about the organization, about the politics, and the board was very comfortable with me taking on that role with his recommendation. And it really launched my career. And so I really have to give a lot of credit to Dr. McDivit and his confidence in me that allowed me to launch my career in such a way.
Japhet De Oliveira: That's fantastic. That's great. Have you had a chance to be able to connect with him since that time?
Dexter Shurney: Unfortunately, he's no longer with us, but prior to his passing, we were very close. Yes.
Japhet De Oliveira: Oh, that's beautiful.
Dexter Shurney: He was a wonderful man.
Japhet De Oliveira: That's fantastic. Oh, that's great. All right. Where would you like to go after 50? Up or down?
Dexter Shurney: Let's go up. I'm a climber.
Japhet De Oliveira: Which number? Sorry? You'd have to pick a number.
Dexter Shurney: 60.
Japhet De Oliveira: 60, okay. All right. When in life have you felt most alone?
Dexter Shurney: Most alone?
Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah.
Dexter Shurney: Yeah. They do get harder, don't they? I don't know. That's a really good question as well. To be very, I know we're supposed to be very candid and honest. So I will say, I went through a divorce. I went through a divorce about... Over 20 years ago. And I will tell you that that was one of the toughest, darkest times of my life, because my wife at the time was someone I met in medical school. And so that's how long we had been together. And a lot of our friends were friends that we had together in medical school. They were residents. And so that was your world. The other thing is, I'm an only child, and my parents had died. Both of my parents, lost both my mother and my father just a few years before the divorce.
And so the family that I had was the family I had with my ex-wife. And so when that was no longer in existence, I felt quite alone because friends go with sometimes, with the other spouse. And those situations, I had no brothers or sisters. My parents were gone. And that was a very tough time for me. But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And I have a good relationship with my ex as well as her family. And it also, Japhet, it brought me closer to God, and so I praised God for that. But it was a dark time. It wasn't always clear to me what it was all about. But yeah, that was probably the toughest time.
Japhet De Oliveira: Thank you for sharing, Dexter. I know that unfortunately it is complex times, and a lot of people do have to go through that. And so it's good to hear that there is light at the other side.
Dexter Shurney: There's life. And I would tell anybody that's going through something like that, because it's common these days, unfortunately, to not give up hope. You will make it through. You will make it through. It can be tough sometime, but you can make it through.
Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah. It's true. So after 60, sir, are you going up or down?
Dexter Shurney: I don't know.
Japhet De Oliveira: And what number?
Dexter Shurney: I mean.
Japhet De Oliveira: Like I said-
Dexter Shurney: My goodness, what's after that? Okay, let's go, we'll slow it down a little bit. We'll go to 70.
Japhet De Oliveira: 70.
Dexter Shurney: How's that?
Japhet De Oliveira: I'm not sure how that slows down, but that's fine. That's great. I like it. Tell us about one thing that you are determined to accomplish.
Dexter Shurney: I just want to make a difference. I just want to make a difference. Whatever it is, that's really been my career and my... That's what motivates me. If I feel like I'm not making a difference, then I get very anxious and just restless. I should probably say restless, not anxious. And so whatever I'm doing, I really want to be making a difference. And I've done that in many phases of my career, I would hope. And I'm hoping to make that kind of a difference today with my work at Adventist Health and the research and the kinds of things that we're doing with diversity and health equity ultimately to make a difference and impact people's lives.
Japhet De Oliveira: That's good. Challenging there, for sure. All right. So after 70, up or down?
Dexter Shurney: 80. I'm on a roll.
Japhet De Oliveira: All right. That's good. So how would you like to change in the future?
Dexter Shurney: How would I like to change in the future?
Japhet De Oliveira: How would you like to change in the future? When you think of yourself in the future?
Dexter Shurney: Well, at some point I would like to be a mentor. I would like to be able to do things that are not so much because of a job or because of a role, but just sharing experiences and helping others that are going through different kinds of things. In some ways, almost a pastor without being a pastor.
Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah. I like it.
Dexter Shurney: That's where I would ultimately want to end up.
Japhet De Oliveira: So let me ask you this question, which is number 80, A.
Dexter Shurney: Okay.
Japhet De Oliveira: Which I just made up, right? So-
Dexter Shurney: That's fine.
Japhet De Oliveira: I know. This is great. It's great. What would be one of those experiences that you would love to share?
Dexter Shurney: Well, I tell you, I've been on mission trips and that's been such a rewarding thing. You go on a mission trip, at least this was my naivete, but I'm going to help somebody. I'm going to help these people. And what you find out... And I don't know if you've been on one, perhaps you have, I'm sure you probably have, but-
Japhet De Oliveira: Oh yeah.
Dexter Shurney: You come back actually feeling blessed and you feel as if they helped you as much as you helped them. You get to see the world more clearly. You're more thankful. And it gives you a sense of wellbeing that there's nothing like it. So I want more of that.
Japhet De Oliveira: It really does re-hone your purpose.
Dexter Shurney: It does, yeah.
Japhet De Oliveira: I love it too. I'm with you on that. All right, brilliant. So thank you for answering 80, A, which is a bonus. So where next?
Dexter Shurney: 88. Like the piano keys. Let's do that.
Japhet De Oliveira: 88. All right. Tell us about how your life has been different than what you imagined.
Dexter Shurney: Oh, wow. So yeah, I'm not the truck driver that I thought I would be.
And I went from one extreme to the other. I had no interest in money when I was really young. And then I had all the interest in money. And in fact, there was a point in my life where I said, I'm going to retire by the age of 40. I'm going to make all this money and do all of these things and retire early. And obviously that didn't happen. But I don't know, I think I'm just more grounded and more connected to what really matters. Maybe that's just as you age, you mellow, but I was sort of early in my career run, very ambitious up the corporate ladder sort of thing.
And so that's where I thought I would end up, is probably starting my own company and becoming even more wealthy. But money has lost its... I mean, it's important. We all have to make a living, but it's not... It doesn't have the importance that it once did in my life. And that's a big change. And people, my cousins, I was just talking to one of my cousins the other day, and they were teasing me about how I used to charge them interest when I would give them loans when I was 10 years old. You want to borrow five bucks? Well, you better give me seven back. That kind of thing.
Japhet De Oliveira: That's a rate.
Dexter Shurney: And they said, "Dexter has the first dollar that he ever earned." And they were just remarking on how I'm not that way anymore. And that's a good thing.
Japhet De Oliveira: Oh, those are good moments. Good. All right. After 88, then where next?
Dexter Shurney: Go to 90.
Japhet De Oliveira: 90. All right.
Dexter Shurney: I'm kind of scared to go all the way to a hundred. I’m inching up to it.
Japhet De Oliveira: Okay. That's good. So here's number 90. Tell us about how you overcame something that was seemingly insurmountable.
Dexter Shurney: I don't know if I've really faced anything that I thought was entirely insurmountable. That's what I'm struggling with. I mean, I've had some challenges that were pretty big, but there was never a moment when I thought I couldn't at some way figure out either how to get around it or over it. So I don't really know if there's anything that's insurmountable. I've had challenges for sure, but I always figured or thought that I could find a way around it. So that's an interesting question. That's a hard one for me. And I'm fortunate, I guess, in that I never have completely hit a brick wall.
Japhet De Oliveira: Well, and it could also demonstrate a personality, a perspective of how you deal with problems as well. Yeah. It's good. Appreciate it. All right. So that was 90. Still up?
Dexter Shurney: Let's go to 95.
Japhet De Oliveira: 95. All right. This is a beautiful one for you actually, and I think it's fantastic. Tell us about how you see your faith and your life intersecting.
Dexter Shurney: Oh, that's a beautiful question. And as I touched on before, I found faith when I was going through that dark period in my life. I will also tell you that when I was going through that dark period, I had a diagnosis that my physician friends thought was a fatal diagnosis. And I was still quite young, relative. And my children were single digits. Well, nine and 11. And I thought that might be the end for me based on what they thought the diagnosis was. And I got the diagnosis on a Friday. And I wasn't walking with the Lord. I was born in Loma Linda, but I left the church early on in my career because I needed to be rich. And so I had this diagnosis and I thought, based on what we saw, it was radiographic evidence of it. And they wanted to do a CT scan on Monday.
So I got the diagnosis on a Friday and they were going to do some follow up tests on Monday. Long story short, I went home and I prayed. And I said, "Lord, I haven't been a good Christian. I haven't been walking with you, but if you do exist, please heal me. Or at least let me live long enough to see my children be grown." And I said, "I will do everything I can to bring others to you, but I don't know if I'll ever be saved. I'm just too bad a person to be saved. But if I can do anything to at least bring others to you, I'm willing to do that. You don't have to worry about saving me, but at least give me the grace to live to do these things." And I went in on Monday and they repeated the test and everything was negative.
And my friend, my physician friend... It, not to keep everyone in mystery, but there was a tumor on my lungs and they saw it on the x-ray on Friday, my friend called me and he said, "Take a look at this." And I said, "Oh wow, that's not good. Who is that?" He said, "That's you." And he cried because we had gone through residency together. We were good friends. And he cried and we both knew what it was. And he says, "Okay, we got to get a CT scan, we got to do a biopsy. We got to do all these things." Well, the next, on Monday, the repeat x-ray didn't show it. CT scans, everything was negative. And so I believe that was an answer to prayer. There's no other way to think about it. And that really also started my journey. So both of those things were happening in my life at the same time, the divorce and this together.
And that was enough. I mean, the Lord really got my attention. And that really started my walk back and praise God, that was many, many years ago now. Over 20, 25 years ago or so. And it's been a steady progression in terms of my faith and my walk. And I didn't know how to pray. I didn't know anything. I had to go back and understand why I was a Christian. And in fact, Japhet, I didn't go right back. I'm Seventh-day Adventist now, but I didn't go back to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I went to other kinds of churches and denominations and I was searching because I didn't know God and I didn't know what I wanted.
And he led me back. And it made sense when I really studied for myself, not just being told what to do as a child. And so that's how I've made my way back. And it's been a beautiful journey and I don't... I'm not perfect yet, but he has been very patient with me on this journey. And I have to credit my wife as well for being on the journey with me. It's always easier when you have someone that can be on these kinds of journeys with you. And it's been a beautiful thing.
Japhet De Oliveira: Hey, that's beautiful. That's beautiful. All right, so we literally have time for your final two. You could tell me both numbers now, or you could pick one at a time.
Dexter Shurney: Let's go for easy and let's go for hard. Let's go with 99 and with 30.
Japhet De Oliveira: All right. And you want 99 first and then 30 last?
Dexter Shurney: I'll leave it to you. Don't even tell me which one. I guess I'll figure it out, but.
Japhet De Oliveira: All right, I'm going to go to 30, and then I'm going to come back to 99, if that's good with you. All right. So tell us about something you're really looking forward to.
Dexter Shurney: Oh, wow. Well, I look forward to so many things. I'm looking forward to having grandkids. My daughter was married last year and they wanted to give themselves a chance to be together before having children. But 2023, they tell me to start thinking about being called Grandpa. So I'm really looking forward to that. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.
Japhet De Oliveira: Congratulations.
Dexter Shurney: Hey. And I'm known for my dad jokes, and so I've got a whole bunch of them for my grandkids. And so that'll be a lot of fun.
Japhet De Oliveira: That's good. That's beautiful. And I understand that. That's fantastic. All right. Who we're going to go then? It's question number 99. Last one for our time together here. What is the most difficult truth you've ever told?
Dexter Shurney: Having to tell somebody that they're probably going to die. That's, as a physician, that is probably the most difficult thing that you have to do. And it's interesting though, how people handle that.
It's even more difficult when they don't handle it well. It's always difficult, but more so when they just... You just see it, you just see them crumble and the family just crumble in front of you. But other times you find people that are very comfortable with their destiny, and then you get to work with that person in a different way. But it is still always tough, particularly if you've known that patient for some time and you've developed some sort of relationship with them.
Japhet De Oliveira: That would be true. Well, Dexter, I want to say thank you to you for your time, for your honesty, for your insights, all the stories and experiences that you've had and for sharing them with us. I've been privileged to hear and to be part of it as well.
Dexter Shurney: Well, thank you. And you were right. This was fun. It was very reflective too. You made me think about some things I haven't thought about in a long time, or I don't think about much. So, you challenged me.
Japhet De Oliveira: No, I hear you. I hear you. And to all of our listeners, I want to encourage them to do the same as well. Just like Dexter and I just talked a little bit here. There is something really beautiful about hearing other people, asking them good questions, listening and sharing your own stories and experiences as well. I think I grow through these conversations and I think that we can actually grow from each other as well. So wishing everybody's God's blessing on them, God's love of them, and that they continue to do the same as well. Thanks again, Dexter. Blessings to you.
Dexter Shurney: Thank you.
Narrator: Thank you for joining us for the Story and Experience podcast. We invite you to read, watch, and submit your story and experience at Adventisthealth.org/story. The story and Experience podcast was bought to you by Adventist Health.