Dr. David Satcher
First Black Male Surgeon General in the U.S.
My blog of late has likely seemed like a veritable history book, as have my posts on Facebook and Twitter (@DrWinkfield). As you may have surmised, for the month of February, I made a commitment to share some of the amazing contributions of black physicians. All of the physicians highlighted to date, with the exception of Dr. Chet Pierce (highlighted on my Valentine’s Day blog), are either historical figures or amazing physicians I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. For the last few days of February, I thought it would be fun to highlight a few of the “famous encounters” I have had with incredible black docs.
During my 2nd year as a medical student at Duke University Medical School (DUMC), I took on the task of organizing the annual SNMA MLK, Jr. banquet, sponsored by the Department of Medicine (with avid support by the Chair of Medicine at the time, Dr. Barton Haynes). Those of you who know me, know that once I put my hands on something, the goal is to bring attention to the organization I am working with, and to make any project bigger/better than it was before. So, when I sat down with medical admin extraordinaire, Marsha Newby, to discuss logistics, I informed her that my goal was to bring Dr. David Satcher, the newly appointed United States Surgeon General, to Duke as our keynote speaker.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton appointed Dr. Satcher the 16th Surgeon General of the United States. He became the second black physician (Clinton appointed Dr. Jocelyn Elders in 1993) and the first black male appointed to the position. He simultaneously held the position of Assistant Secretary for Health, becoming the first Surgeon General to be appointed as a four-star admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
During his tenure as the Nation’s Top Doc, Dr. Satcher used his position and stature to bring much-needed attention to the significant health care disparities that exist in the U.S. He was not afraid to discuss potentially controversial topics such as tobacco use among racial groups or the HIV epidemic that was plaguing the nation. Some even criticized him for promoting sexual health and responsible sexual behaviors, but he saw how the HIV/AIDS epidemic was quickly evolving, and was yet again, disproportionately affecting blacks.
Perhaps his passion for health and ensuring all peoples had access to equitable care came from his own childhood experience with illness. He was born and raised in rural Alabama in an era where white physicians in the south would not see black patients. Two of his 9 siblings actually died very early in their young lives due to illness. In fact, Dr. Satcher himself contracted whooping cough and pneumonia when he was 2 years old, and it was assumed he would die as well. Yet, a dedicated black physician came out to his rural home and spent an entire day taking care of him. David Satcher pulled through and has gone on to serve as doctor to an entire nation.
This well-accomplished and highly decorated physician is soft-spoken and remains down-to-earth. When Dr. Satcher heard that the students at DUMC had requested a visit, he quickly agreed (thank you Dr. Gavin for making that contact for us!). Not only did Dr. Satcher provide a lecture for the entire Durham/Chapel-Hill community, he set aside time to have a private breakfast with just the medical students!