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Dr. Jerome  Adams

Dr. Jerome Adams

The 20th Surgeon General of the United States

Biography

After growing up poor and Black in a Southern rural community, Jerome Adams went on to lead the 6,000 person U.S. Public Health Service as “America’s Doctor” during a worldwide pandemic. As Surgeon General, he brought a passionate commitment to fighting issues that his own family and community experienced, including limited healthcare access, chronic disease, substance use disorder and ensuing stigma, tobacco addiction, maternal health, mental illness and the opioid epidemic. Dr. Adams’ talks merge his expertise at the forefront of national and global health policy with his own personal experiences: growing up with life-threatening asthma, as a brother to someone with substance use disorder, and as someone navigating politics to tirelessly champion the health of the vulnerable and voiceless during times of crisis. Read More >

Dr. Adams’ experience with healthcare began as a patient. As a child with chronic asthma, he suffered an attack so severe that he was airlifted, barely breathing, from his home in rural southern Maryland to a hospital in Washington D.C. As a student, he excelled in science, math and technology and was awarded a scholarship to study biochemistry at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. It was there that he first met a Black physician (“You have to see it to be it!”) and was inspired to pursue a career in medicine. Adams was featured in the film Black Men In White Coats which tackles the issues around why black men aren’t becoming medical doctors and what that means for society.

Adams was awarded a scholarship to Indiana University Medical School, earned his Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley and went on to work in private practice as an anesthesiologist in rural Indiana. He was recruited back to Indiana University Medical School, rising to the rank of associate professor. During this time, Dr. Adams caught the eye of Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who appointed him as Indiana State Health Commissioner. Adams triumphed in that role, handling Ebola, Zika, the nation’s largest HIV and Hepatitis C outbreak associated with IV drug use, and a lead contamination situation in Northern Indiana that drew comparisons to the crisis in Flint, Michigan. His leadership during the HIV/Hepatitis C outbreak has been heralded for dramatically reducing infection via a needle exchange program that Dr. Adams championed through a highly conservative state legislature, paving the way for many other states to subsequently start or expand such services.   

In 2016, Dr. Adams followed then-Vice President Pence to Washington as America’s 20th Surgeon General. He brought with him an ambitious goal to tackle the raging opioid crisis and make naloxone widely available. His agenda also included addressing health disparities such as maternal health and promoting community health and wellness through engagement with businesses and employers. As Surgeon General, Adams faced three category five hurricanes in a row, an e-cigarette/vaping epidemic among youth, and a once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic that was combined with a once-in-a-generation level of political strife and national division. Through it all, he stayed at the table, as one of the only high-level Black voices in the administration. Dr. Adams leveraged his position to advocate for disproportionately hard-hit communities of color and address the systemic health disparities that COVID shone a bright light on. As Dr. Adams often says, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Throughout his career, he has continued a hands-on approach to medicine, maintaining hospital privileges and becoming the only Surgeon General in recent history to actively practice while in office.

The Bipartisan Policy Center launched an opioid task force to address drug addiction and overdose deaths in the U.S., and Dr. Adams is a member. This new group will develop policy to reduce drug overdose deaths and combat the national opioid crisis, which it described as an epidemic within the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Adams is also a fellow of The University of Virginia Darden School of Business Dean’s D.C. Fellows program, which assembles innovative and intellectually accomplished experts who have distinguished themselves in fields outside of academia. These fellows collaborate with Darden faculty and students in a variety of ways.

Now, as a speaker, Dr. Adams continues his 25-year mission in community and public health with unforgettable keynote speeches and frank, courageous, and insightful fireside chats. Never backing down from tough questions, he brings a passion for engagement that pulls him from behind the podium to genuinely interact with audiences during Q&A. Known for speaking plainly on an array of health topics, he customizes his talks to meet the interests of an array of audiences. With a calm and caring manner, Dr. Adams speaks from the heart with the goal of making every audience member feel that he is speaking directly to them. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Ending the Stigma of Substance Use Disorder

Speech Topics

Your Zip Code Shouldn’t Determine Your Health: Social Determinants of Health & Achieving Health Equity

COVID-19 created a perfect storm that preyed upon our nation’s most vulnerable communities: people of color, rural populations, and those already suffering from epidemics of obesity, asthma, substance use disorder, smoking, and conditions such as poor maternal health that are prevalent in low-income zip codes. COVID has cast a spotlight on a long history of systemic health inequities in America—disparities and underlying conditions that were Dr. Adams’ focus as Surgeon General. Today, these disparities still remain. But according to Dr. Adams, there is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to right the wrongs of the past. Noting that great advancements in health policy often come during or after times of war (antibiotic use after WWI, health care coverage after WWII, or trauma care after the Gulf War), Dr. Adams sees an opportunity in a post-COVID world to talk about the social determinants of health and health equity in a way that truly resonates with the public, moves from awareness to action,  and drives real and lasting change.

Community Health & Economic Prosperity: Engaging Businesses as Stewards & Stakeholders

In far too many cases, businesses are pitted against health. That’s why Jerome Adams was the first Surgeon General to actively engage businesses to become change-makers and forces for health in their communities. In this talk for corporate stakeholders, Dr. Adams explains why communities that are unhealthy don’t just see individuals with poor health—they see businesses with poor economic health, more absenteeism, lower productivity, increased workplace accidents, increased turnover and trouble recruiting a healthy workforce. In this informative talk drawn from his landmark Surgeon General Report, Dr. Adams shares examples from 40 companies that elevated community health, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it benefits their bottom line.

Taking a Healthy Approach to Diversity: The Business Case for DEI

In the healthcare world, we’ve seen that patients that are taken care of by people who look like them and who come from their backgrounds have better health outcomes. According to Dr. Adams, the same is true in any workplace. Data, statistics and studies show that when an organization champions diversity, equity and inclusion, they expand their stakeholder base, are more relevant and innovative, and have more engaged and productive employees. In this engaging talk, 20th Surgeon General Jerome Adams speaks to becoming better corporate citizens by building a culture of belonging and connecting more closely to the community in ways that are a “win-win” for all.

Ending the Stigma of Substance Use Disorder

One of millions of American families affected by substance use disorder, Dr. Jerome Adams has seen his own family not only struggle with  the disease, but suffer the crippling stigma attached to it. His own younger brother’s case, like so many others, started with untreated depression that led to opioid pain reliever misuse and then, to years of cycling in and out of jail. Sharing his family’s painful and heart-felt story, Dr. Adams asserts that the first step to battling substance use disorder is to understand that it is a chronic, but treatable, brain disease that should be as free of stigma as any other chronic health condition. Blending a Surgeon General’s public health expertise with a candid account of his family’s own story of heartbreak and hope, Dr. Adams calls on all of us to change society’s views and break down the barriers that prevent sufferers and their families from speaking out and seeking help.

From Rural Poor to Opportunity’s Door: My Personal Journey

Dr. Jerome Adams grew up in rural Mechanicsville, Maryland, on one of the many tobacco farms that once drove the local economy of his impoverished hometown. Despite chronic asthma that caused him to miss school, he was an exceptional student, winning awards and accolades for science, math, technology and engineering. His hard work landed him a college scholarship to University of Maryland, where he earned dual bachelor degrees in biochemistry and biopsychology, also studying abroad in Zimbabwe and the Netherlands. Remembered as a kid from a small town who held his own competing with students from around the world, it was his compassion for others and concern over the injustice of health care disparities that inspired him to become a doctor. Years later, as Surgeon General,  “America’s Doctor,” he fought to give a voice to communities that often go unheard. In this inspiring speech, Dr. Adams talks about the factors that drove his success—from his own mindset to individual teachers and a system of supports that helped him rise out of poverty so that he could  raise up others.