David Satcher Biography

Doctor (1941–)
David Satcher is a physician who served under President Bill Clinton as U.S. surgeon general from 1998 to 2002.


Born in Alabama in 1941, David Satcher was appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1993, and in 1998 he was appointed surgeon general by President Bill Clinton. Satcher received many awards throughout his career, including the New York Academy of Medicine Lifetime Achievement Award (1997) and the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Award for Humanitarian Contributions to the Health of Humankind (1999).

Early Life and Career

David Satcher was born in Anniston, Alabama, on March 2, 1941. At the age of two, Satcher suffered a dangerous bout of whooping cough; he survived after receiving care from the only African-American doctor in the rural area. This experience made Satcher set his sights on becoming a physician himself.

After graduating from Morehouse College in 1963, Satcher studied medicine at Case Western Reserve University. In 1970, he earned both a medical degree and a Ph.D. in chromosome genetics from the university. Satcher then headed west, working for a time at a hospital in the South-Central neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

In 1982, Satcher became the president of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. He moved onto the national stage in 1993, when he accepted the directorship of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Satcher held this post until 1998.

U.S. Surgeon General

In 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated Satcher to be the 16th surgeon general of the United States. Satcher was confirmed as surgeon general—a job that involves steering the national policy for public health—in February 1998. He also became an assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services, a position he would hold until January 2001.

While serving as surgeon general, Satcher worked to improve access to health care and addressed health concerns such as obesity. He also identified suicide as a national health crisis. In 1999, Satcher issued a call to action, saying the country must "put into place national strategies to prevent the loss of life and the suffering suicide causes."

Satcher's predecessor as surgeon general, M. Jocelyn Elders, had to resign after making controversial remarks regarding sex education; Satcher encountered similar political difficulties during his years in the position. He was criticized for a June 2001 report that called for sex education to provide information beyond stressing abstinence. Despite the criticism, Satcher remained in the surgeon general's office until 2002.

In Recent Years

After leaving his post as surgeon general, Satcher became the director of the National Center for Primary Care at the Morehouse School of Medicine. He stepped in to serve as the president of the medical school two years later.

Seeking new challenges, Satcher created the Satcher Health Leadership Institute in 2006. The institute is part of the Morehouse School of Medicine. He serves as its director, overseeing programs on sexual health, disease prevention, mental health and the health needs of underserved communities. Satcher is also the author of the 2005 clinical guide Multicultural Medicine and Health Disparities. He and his wife Nola live in Atlanta, Georgia. They have four adult children.

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