Dr Satcher Lecture 1At five minutes to noon on February 5, Spain Auditorium was already filling to capacity as School of Medicine faculty, administration, students, residents and staff gathered to listen to Dr. David Satcher discuss the importance of diversity in medicine as part of the Diversity Day celebration for UAB School of Medicine.

As School of Medicine faculty, staff, and students settled into their seats, Dr. Mona Fouad, Senior Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion in the School of Medicine, introduced Dr. Satcher. She noted that the native Alabamian became the president of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee in 1982 after completing his medical degree and earning a PhD in chromosome genetics. He appeared on the national stage in 1993 when he assumed the position of Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated Satcher to become the 16th Surgeon General of the United States, a position he held until 2002. He currently serves as the Founding Director and Senior Advisor of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine.

Satcher began his remarks by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Pursuing a medical education while the Civil Rights movement shook the country, during a time in which few African American men considered a career as a physician to be a viable option, gives Satcher a breadth of insight accessible to few. “Diversity starts with caring about it,” he said. “We need leaders who care enough, who know enough, who have the courage to do enough and are persistent enough to get the job done.”

Unfortunately, Satcher noted, there is a paucity of emerging leaders who are able to respond to the needs faced by an increasingly global patient population. “Today, the need for leaders is too great to leave their emergence to chance,” he said. He argued for a leadership that deliberately commits to transforming communities, adopting a global perspective, and addresses cultural competency.

“The most important type of diversity is cultural diversity,” Satcher said. “It goes beyond race and gender. Culture impacts how people manifest and describe their illnesses, how they cope with illness, the type of stresses they experience when they get sick, and whether they are willing to seek treatment. Culture impacts the way patients are diagnosed and the kind of treatments they are offered.” With lives at stake, Satcher contended, cultural competency is a necessity. He quoted Kay Redfield Jamison: “The gap between what we know and what we do is lethal.”

Satcher concluded his remarks on a note of hope. Emphasizing that the pursuit of diversity is everyone’s responsibility, not simply that of women and racial and ethnic minorities, he encouraged faculty, staff, trainees and students to grow together and learn from one another.  “Ultimately, diversity is about individuals,” he said, “appreciating diversity is about appreciating individuals, finding a way to connect and support each other.”