The University Record, June 18, 2001

End health care disparities, surgeon general tells graduates

By Rick Krupinski
Medical Development and Alumni Relations

Proclaiming the 20th century as “a great century of medicine and health,” U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher encouraged the 165 graduates of the Medical School to “bring the best available science to bear on our policies as a nation” in order to continue the gains made in health and disease, and to end racial and ethnic disparities in American health care in the 21st century. Satcher delivered the Medical School’s commencement address June 8 in Hill Auditorium.

“This is no time to stop dreaming,” said Satcher, the 16th surgeon general and first African American man to serve as the nation’s top doctor. “The American dream does not end when it comes to you. Rather, you have an obligation to help make it happen for others.

“African American babies are 2 1/2 times more likely to die in their first year than majority babies,” Satcher told the new physicians. “American Indians are three times as likely to suffer from diabetes—Hispanics, two times—as the white population. White women still have the highest risk for cancer of the breast, but African American women continue to have the highest mortality rate from breast cancer. As a nation, we can do better than that.”

Along with ending disparities in health care, Satcher identified the aging of America, along with quality-of-life issues that apply to all ages but especially to the elderly, as another great challenge facing physicians. Dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, disability, chronic pain and depression will be fundamental issues in the decades to come.

Earlier in the day, Satcher spoke to a group of 70 middle and high school students in Ypsilanti who participate in the Health Occupations Partners in Education (HOPE) program. HOPE is a partnership between the U-M and Ypsilanti Public Schools to promote interest in health science careers, particularly among minority groups underrepresented in health care professions.

Satcher served simultaneously as surgeon general and assistant secretary of health and human services February 1998–January 2001. His term as surgeon general continues until February 2002. His past positions include serving as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry 1993–98. Satcher served as president of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., 1982–93.