Former Surgeon General Challenges NCSC Attendees to Lead

Satcher Says Leadership Needed to Solve Health Disparities

May 11, 2011 12:55 am News Staff Kansas City, Mo. –

One of primary goals of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute( at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta is to develop a diverse group of public health leaders "committed to the reduction and ultimate elimination of health disparities." It seems fitting, therefore, that the institute's director, David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., spoke on that very topic to a diverse audience of physicians interested in issues that affect women; minorities; new physicians; international medical graduates; and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals during the opening session of the AAFP's National Conference of Special Constituencies, or NCSC, here on May 5.

"There are leadership capabilities in all of us, and we need to help develop that capacity because leadership matters," said Satcher, an AAFP member and former surgeon general who is the Poussaint-Satcher-Cosby Chair in Mental Health at Morehouse. "Leaders must be good learners."

Satcher, who also is director of the Center of Excellence on Health Disparities at Morehouse, urged his audience to continue to learn and take on new challenges.

"To eliminate disparities, we first and foremost need leaders who care enough, leaders who know enough -- even if it's knowing they need to learn more -- leaders with the courage to do what it takes to meet goals, and leaders who will persevere," said Satcher, who directed the development of Healthy People 2010 and released more than a dozen reports during his tenure as surgeon general.

Satcher also has served as director of the CDC and assistant secretary for health.

"There have been times I thought I was an expert in certain areas, and something would happen to bring me back to reality," he said. "I'm fortunate to have a lot of experience, but I don't consider myself an expert on leadership. I consider myself a serious student of leadership."

Satcher, who is only the second surgeon general to have served concurrently as assistant secretary for health, was asked by an audience member how physicians can make a difference without getting involved in politics.

"You can't get around politics," he responded. "You have to get through it. We have to work with politicians. We have to be a reliable, credible voice going on the best available science so that we're trusted. You make progress if you have integrity, if you are clear and people trust what you say."

Satcher again stressed the need for perseverance.

"Important things don't come easy," he said, "and they don't come fast, so keep pushing."