Raising Awareness to Reduce Disparities: Dr. David Satcher Receives Special Recognition Award
This year’s Special Recognition Award was presented to David Satcher, MD, PhD, a physician who has dedicated his entire career, both in the public and private sector, to raising awareness and to taking steps toward elimination of racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes.
|Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher led the nation in making a commitment to eliminating health disparities.
The Special Recognition Award honors those who have made major contributions in the areas of clinical oncology, patient advocacy, cancer research, reimbursement, and clinical trials. Dr. Satcher was presented with the award on Friday night at a ceremony.
"I am deeply honored to receive this award from an organization that has done such good work in improving outcomes in cancer and is so committed to eradicating health disparities," said Dr. Satcher in an interview with ASCO Daily News. "Cancer is one of the major areas of health disparities."
Dr. Satcher added, "African Americans have the highest rate of mortality from the major forms of cancer in this country— lung, breast, prostate, and colon. Black women, for example, have a lower incidence of breast cancer but a higher mortality rate than when compared with white women." He emphasized that cancer represents many challenges and opportunities in the area of health inequalities.
As a 2-year-old child growing up in rural Alabama, Dr. Satcher became very ill with pertussis and pneumonia. It was common for children, especially black children, to die of these diseases then because there was little access to health care. His parents were able to get the one black physician in the area, Dr. Jackson, to come out to their farm to show them how to care for their ailing son by controlling his fever and helping him to breathe.
"By the time I was 6 years old, I was telling everyone that I was going to be a doctor like Dr. Jackson," Dr. Satcher said.
Accomplishments in Academia and Government
For 12 years, Dr. Satcher served as president of Meharry Medical College. He describes his time there as one of great struggle—but ultimately resulted in one of his proudest accomplishments. In the 1980s, Meharry was scheduled to close because of deep financial difficulties.
"At that time, Meharry had educated half of the black physicians and dentists in this country," Dr. Satcher explained. "It was and is a very important place for training physicians who are likely to practice in underserved areas."
Meharry’s debt was increasing as its affiliation with a hospital that served a poor population continued to operate without reimbursement. Under Dr. Satcher’s leadership, the school went through the process of debt forgiveness through a partnership among Meharry Medical College, Nashville General Hospital, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
After his time at Meharry, Dr. Satcher served for 9 years in the federal government. He was director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 5 years and then became both the Assistant Secretary of Health and U.S. Surgeon General for 3 years. He then served for one year exclusively as the U.S. Surgeon General from 2001 to 2002.
During his time with the federal government, Dr. Satcher led the nation in making a commitment to eliminating health disparities.
"I don’t know when we will reach that goal, but it was an important step to make the commitment first," he said. Dr. Satcher noted that he is very proud of the fact that his leadership in this area resulted in the formation of the World Health Organization (WHO) Commission on Global Health Disparities with a goal of global health equity.
Since 2006, Dr. Satcher has served as the director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse College of Medicine in Atlanta, GA. The Institute’s mission is to develop a diverse group of public health leaders and influence policies toward the reduction and ultimate elimination of disparities in health.