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David  Satcher

David Satcher

16th US Surgeon General, Former Assistant Secretary for Health, Former Director of the CDC & Founder of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse College

David Satcher

16th US Surgeon General, Former Assistant Secretary for Health, Former Director of the CDC & Founder of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse College


Sworn in on February 13, 1998, Dr. David Satcher became the second person in history to ever hold the positions of Surgeon General and Assistant Secretary for Health simultaneously. He is director of The Satcher Health Leadership Institute, which was established in 2006 at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. The Institute’s mission is to develop a diverse group of public health leaders, foster and support leadership strategies, and influence policies toward the reduction—and, ultimately, the elimination—of disparities in health. The Institute’s programs reflect Dr. Satcher’s demonstrated track record in improving public health policy and his commitment to eliminating health disparities for underserved groups, such as minorities and the poor, and shedding light on neglected issues, such as mental and sexual health.

Dr. Satcher was sworn in as the 16th Surgeon General of the United States in 1998. He also served as Assistant Secretary for Health in the Department of Health and Human Services from February 1998 to January 2001, making him only the second person in history to have held both positions simultaneously. His tenure of public service also includes serving as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and administrator of the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry from 1993 to 1998. He is the first person to have served as director of the CDC and then surgeon general of the United States.

In addition, Dr. Satcher has held top leadership positions at the Charles R. Drew University for Medicine and Science, Meharry Medical College, and the Morehouse School of Medicine. He has been a Macy Foundation fellow, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation clinical scholar, and a senior visiting fellow of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Having also held the position of director of the National Center for Primary Care (NCPC) at the Morehouse School of Medicine from 2002 to 2004, Dr. Satcher currently occupies the Poussaint-Satcher-Cosby chair in mental health at the Morehouse School of Medicine. This reflects his long commitment to removing the stigma attached to mental illness, as evidenced by Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon, the first surgeon general’s report on mental health released during his tenure as surgeon general. As surgeon general and assistant secretary for health, Dr. Satcher led the department’s effort to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health, an initiative that was incorporated as one of the two major goals of Healthy People 2010. In his new book, My Quest for Health Equity: Notes on Learning While Leading (Health Equity in America), Dr. Satcher shares stories of leadership and lessons learned from his lifetime commitment to health equity.

Dr. Satcher has received over 40 honorary degrees and numerous distinguished honors including top awards from the National Medical Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians; he is also the recipient of the Symbol of H.O.P.E. Award for health promotion and disease prevention. In 2005, Dr. Satcher was appointed to serve on the World Health Organization Commission on Social Determinants of Health.

Currently, Dr. Satcher serves on the Board of Directors of Johnson & Johnson, MetLife, and the CDC Foundation. He also serves locally on the board of United Way of Greater Atlanta and The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

Dr. Satcher graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1963 and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He holds MD and PhD degrees from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. He is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society and a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Preventive Medicine, and the American College of Physicians. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, the 100 Black Men of Atlanta, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Satcher is a strong advocate for raising Alzheimer’s awareness and research funding. He has both a professional and personal perspective on the issue, as his wife, Nola, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s almost 14 years ago. Having experienced the toll that the disease takes on families, Dr. Satcher works to provide support for those in similar situations by raising awareness and offering resources to caregivers. 

A proponent of maintaining a healthy lifestyle through physical activity and good nutrition, Dr. Satcher is an avid runner, rower, and gardener.

Speaker Videos

Maintaining Good Health

Smoking and Public Health

Speech Topics

My Quest for Health Equity: Notes on Learning While Leading (Health Equity in America)

Dr. David Satcher is one of the most widely known and well-regarded physicians of our time. A former four-star admiral in the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, he served as the Assistant Secretary for Health, the Surgeon General of the United States, and the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before founding the eponymous Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse College. At the core of his impact on public health, he is also a lifelong leader for civil rights and health equity. Born black and poor in the deep South, Dr. Satcher was a victim of an unjust health care system: he almost died of whooping cough at the age of two because Jim Crow laws meant that his black doctor could not admit him to a hospital. That experience was the first of many that shaped him as a leader and a healer deeply attuned to social inequity―someone who was determined to make a positive difference.

Dr. Satcher takes an inspiring and instructive look inside his own fifty-year career to shed light on the challenge and burden of leadership. Explaining that he has thought of each leadership role―whether in academia, community, or government―as an opportunity to move the needle toward health equity, he shares the hard-won lessons he has learned over a lifetime in the medical field. Drawing on his early memories, medical school days, experience in the civil rights movement, and professional highs and lows, Dr. Satcher touches on a number of topics, including the essential qualities of leadership, the need for workplace discipline and confronting failure. He also talks about health issues, including the obesity epidemic, reproductive health, and mental health stigma and shares a template for using leadership roles of all types to eliminate health disparities.

Politics, Opinions & Public Health

What Americans Can Do to Maintain Their Health

A Look at Alzheimer’s from a Doctor & a Caregiver