David Satcher Biography (1941-)

physician, surgeon general

An African-American physician who grew up in the South at a time when white physicians would not treat black people, Satcher was sworn in as the 16th surgeon general of the United States and assistant secretary for health on February 13, 1998. In these posts, he has tried to make good on his youthful pledgeto "make the greatest difference to those with the greatest need."

Satcher was born near Anniston, Alabama, on his parents' farm. His father worked at a local foundry, and neither parent had any formal education. Satchergraduated as valedictorian from his segregated high school and went on to thedistinguished, all-black Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, with a fullscholarship. While there, he took an active part in the civil rights movementand was arrested several times for participating in sit-ins and other civilunrest. Satcher graduated magna cum laude from Morehouse in 1963, and enrolled at Case Western Reserve University's medical school as one of only two black students there. He earned his medical degree there and completed his Ph.D.in cytogenetics at the school in 1970, having won several coveted awards foracademic work and quality of patient care.

After performing his internship from 1970 to 1971 at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, Satcher worked for a year as a resident physician ata migrant worker health center. In 1972 he left for California, where he tooka position as director of the Community Hypertension Outreach Program at theMartin Luther King Jr. General Hospital, located in the crime- and poverty-plagued Watts section of Los Angeles. Satcher remained in that post until 1975, when he opened a free clinic in Watts in a church basement, serving as itsmedical director until 1979. In the meantime, Satcher had also become affiliated with the Drew Medical School in various capacities, eventually working there as interim dean from 1977 to 1979, and the University of California at Los Angeles School of Public Health, where he taught epidemiology as an assistant professor from 1974 to 1979.

Satcher returned to Morehouse in 1979 as a department chair in the medical school, but by 1982 he was on the move again--this time to Medharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, to assume its presidency. His challenge was torejuvenate the nearly bankrupt old predominantly black school and its associated teaching college, which he did by increasing federal grants and donationsby millions of dollars. He also fought successfully to merge the Medharry teaching college with the ailing, white-controlled public hospital in Nashvillein a controversial move that paid off with a stronger, integrated institution. In addition, Satcher worked hard to improve the outlook of many of Nashville's inner-city black youths, who were falling prey to drugs, teenage pregnancy, and violent crime at alarming rates.

Satcher remained at Medharry until 1993, when the federal government appointed him director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and he became administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. As CDC director, he mounted ambitious programs to educate people about ways to prevent early death from AIDS, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, and smoking. His advertising campaigns to encourage teens to use condoms caused outrage in some quarters, but Satcher responded with his characteristic composure that "educatingpeople about condoms does not increase sexual activity. It does increase theuse of condoms by people who are sexually active." He has also sponsored programs to limit teenagers' access to guns, knives, alcohol, and areas in whichviolent crime often occur, such as abandoned buildings. These efforts, as well, have met with opposition from law-enforcement officials, who say Satcher's efforts infringe on their domain, but Satcher maintains that youth violenceis a public-health issue, and so rightfully the province of the CDC. Under Satcher's direction, the CDC also expanded its breast cancer- and cervical cancer screening programs from only 18 states to 50.

President Bill Clinton nominated Satcher as surgeon general in 1997, praisingthe CDC and its director for declines in infant mortality, AIDS deaths, andteen pregnancy. Satcher accepted the nomination, saying that his goal would be to "take the best science in the world and place it firmly within the graspof all Americans." He was sworn in as surgeon general for the Department ofHealth and Human Services (HHS) in early 1998, also assuming the position ofassistant secretary for health for the organization. In the latter post, Satcher serves as director of the Office of Public Health and Science and as senior adviser to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala. As of 1999, he continued in both posts.

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