Who was more wowed during yesterday’s general session, “The Doctors Are In” — the surgeons general or the audience?
“I’m like a little kid in a candy store, to be so blessed among such incredible public health lions,” said Acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris Lushniak shortly after taking the stage.
Joycelyn Elders, who took the helm of the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General in 1993, gave props to the public health community for making a huge difference in teen health.
“It is you and the public health service that has reduced our teenage pregnancy rate 57 percent,” she said to applause. Then she called on all of us to work to make our nation healthier.
“We all want healthy people and healthy communities,” Elders told session attendees. “We want a health care system that’s available, affordable, accessible and crisis-responsive. It needs to be patient-oriented.”
As APHA and other groups are urging Senate confirmation of surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy, which has been stalled due to politics, former Acting Surgeon General Steven Galson called on colleagues to forge ahead. Don’t use the Senate impasse as an excuse not to pursue “a vigorous public health agenda,” he said.
“Leadership in public health does not require Senate confirmation,” Galson said, also to great applause and cheers from the crowd. “Yes, worry about the decline of the position of surgeon general, but don’t let that stop any one of you from being a public health rabble rouser and focusing on science and focusing on clear issues.”
When APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin asked each of the surgeons general how we can push ahead with our goal to create the healthiest nation in one generation, they had solid advice.
Elders said we need to empower patients to get more involved in their own care.
“You’re the leaders,” she said. “You’re the transformational leaders who will make the difference if we’re going to have a healthy society.”
Antonia Novello, who was the first woman to serve as surgeon general and knows a thing or two about blazing new trails, said to create the healthiest nation, we must speak the right language.
“Prevention cannot work unless you understand the culture of the people,” Novello said.
The most recent surgeon general, Regina Benjamin, said we need to work hard to spread truth.
“There’s so much misinformation out there — so much bad information — and people take advantage of the lack of knowledge to instill fear,” she said. “Trust is the biggest thing that we’re missing right now. Be a trusting voice for the American people.”
Former Surgeon General David Satcher, who founded the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse College, said health disparities need our attention.
“We have a saying at the institute,” he told attendees. “In order to eliminate disparities in health we need leaders. We need leaders, first and foremost, who care enough. But we also need leaders who know enough. And we need leaders who will persevere until the job is done.”
So get out there and persevere. Be public health rabble rousers!
Above photos from top to bottom: Public health practitioners flock to meet former U.S. Surgeon General Antonio Novello after yesterday's Monday General Session; and APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, far right, applauds the surgeon general-packed session. Photos by Jim Ezell, courtesy EZ Event Photography