Growing up in the United States Virgin Islands, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith saw firsthand what can happen in a community with limited access to health care. Her father, Moleto “Bishop” Smith Sr., was only in his 40s when he suffered a debilitating stroke that left him partly paralyzed and with slurred speech.

The cause was high blood pressure, which could have been treated but had never been diagnosed. Without prompt access to advanced treatments, “the stroke was allowed to run its course,” Dr. Nunez-Smith, 45, recalled in a recent interview. Her father never fully recovered.

“He was a champion and a fighter,” she said. “But my memories are of a father who had to live life with this daily reminder of how we had failed in terms of our health care. I don’t want another little girl out there to have her father suffer a stroke that is debilitating and life-altering in that way.”

Now, tapped by President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to lead a new federal task force, Dr. Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of internal medicine, public health and management at Yale University, will address a terrible reality of American medicine: persistent racial and ethnic disparities in access and care, the sort that contributed to her father’s disability.

Dr. Nunez-Smith has an expansive vision for the job, with plans to target medical resources and relief funds to vulnerable communities but also to tackle the underlying social and economic inequalities that put them at risk.

“For so long, we’ve been setting our sights on the more achievable goals and attempted to say, ‘We probably can’t have totally equitable care, so let’s at least make sure minority patients get insurance, or at least make sure there’s a health clinic in their community,’” said Dr. Utibe R. Essien, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who studies racial disparities in cardiovascular disease.

“This is a great opportunity to stretch and reach for what’s been imagined for decades, if not centuries,” he said.

Racial health disparities represent a vast, structural challenge in this country, made all the more stark by the raging pandemic. Black, Latino and Native Americans are infected with the coronavirus and hospitalized with Covid-19 at higher rates than white Americans, and they have died of the illness at nearly three times the rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Making sure communities hardest hit by the pandemic have access to safe, effective vaccines remains a priority,” Dr. Nunez-Smith said. But “what’s needed to ensure equity in the recovery is not limited to health and health care. We have to have conversations about housing stability and food security and educational equity, and pathways to economic opportunities and promise.”