a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)

(Return to Topic Page)

Week: 593.6 Pt. 1

Guest: Dr. David Satcher, CDC chief

Topic: Satcher nomination as Surgeon General

Reporter: Aaron Cohen

Host/Producer: Steve Girard 

NEMA: At long last, America will have a family doctor again. President Clinton recently named Dr. David Satcher to two key medical posts...once he’s confirmed by the Senate, he’ll serve as both the Surgeon General and the Assistant Secretary of Health...the first to hold both positions since the Carter administration. As Aaron Cohen reports, there is opposition, but not enough to sink the nomination to fill a long vacant post...  

COHEN: America is due for a check-up, and the man with the stethoscope and the bully pulpit is David Satcher. The 56 year old product of an Alabama farm has been the Director of the Centers for Disease Control since 1993, and once approved by the Senate, Dr. Satcher is expected to repeat a lecture many Americans have heard, and many have ignored: You smoke too much, exercise too little and you need to watch your weight. Dr. Satcher says becoming the Surgeon General is the job of a lifetime and the opportunity of a lifetime....  

SATCHER: I want to be the Surgeon General who reaches our citizens with cutting edge technology and plain old fashioned straight talk...whether we’re talking about smoking or poor diet, I want to send messages of good health to our cities and our suburbs, our barrios and reservations, and even our prisons.  

COHEN: Bringing good health to prisons is not a priority shared by Senate republican leader Trent Lott, who criticized Dr. Satcher’s remarks. But Lott says nothing in Satcher’s background disqualifies the sickle cell disease expert from serving as Surgeon General. Lott instead deferred to Bill Frist, a Tennessee heart transplant surgeon who is the only physician in the Senate. Senator Frist, also a republican, knows the nominee from Satcher’s days as president of Meharry Medical College in Nashville...Frist calls him an eloquent communicator who would be an interpreter of medical science as it affects public health  

FRIST: We need that single voice, we need that leadership. When the Surgeon General speaks, the world listens.  

COHEN: When President Clinton handed Satcher the national megaphone to explain health policy to Americans, he hoped the CDC chief and family medicine specialist would not put his foot in his mouth...Joycelyn Elders, the last Surgeon General, did...and was fired nearly three years ago...and the President made sure Satcher had no skeletons lurking in his closet as Elders’ would be successor had - Henry Foster performed abortions, Satcher has not. What the President believes he has is a physician who can, with credibility, warn kids against the dangers of smoking...  

CLINTON: Now I look forward to working with Dr. Satcher on our most important public health mission...to free our children from the grip of tobacco. Every year, more Americans die from smoking related diseases than from AIDS, car accidents, murders and suicides combined. And we all know if people don’t begin to smoke in their teens, it’s unlikely they will ever begin to do so. We have to make the most of this historic opportunity to protect our children against the dangers of tobacco, by passing sweeping legislation that focuses first and foremost on reducing smoking by young people. And he will lead our nation on many other health issues as well.

COHEN: The President’s nominee has the enthusiastic support of the public health community, among them Scott Ballin, former vice-president of the American Heart Association and a consultant to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids... 

BALLIN: Dr. Satcher will be very outspoken on tobacco, as Dr. Koop was. As the head of the CDC right now, a lot of the activities of the Office on Smoking and Health obviously have his name attached to them, and he’s been a very forceful leader in those areas. I think he will continue to make sure that the health policy related to tobacco is strong, and there aren’t compromises with the tobacco industry that we may regret down the road. So, I would expect him to be very supportive on tobacco...as well as some of the other risk factors that need to be addressed as well.  

COHEN: Dr. Satcher is expected to be more than just a national crusader against smoking...he said at the White House he’s a great believer in individual’s taking personal responsibility for their lives, and that includes those at risk of contracting the AIDS virus. Daniel Zingale, executive director of AIDS Action, says he’s encouraged David Satcher has enlisted in the war against AIDS... 

ZINGALE: There has never been a time when we needed a general for the war on AIDS more than today. We have some hopeful signs that if we make the right moves, we can finally gain the upper hand on the epidemic. But to do that is going to require some real leadership on the national level, someone who can step forward and say we need to redouble our efforts...the declining death rate is a reason for more, not less, in the way of our commitment and vigilance...and I think Dr. Satcher will do that. 

COHEN: Few discouraging words were uttered about the incoming Surgeon General, but there is opposition. Consumer groups and the gun lobby are upset with Satcher over separate studies about AIDS and pregnant women, and the role of guns in public health. The National Rifle Association says as head of the CDC, Dr. Satcher signed off on what the gun group calls biased gun research. NRA spokesman Tom Wyld... 

WYLD: Essentially, CDC sponsored gun research put conclusions first, studies later.  

COHEN: Not even the NRA is expected to mount much of a challenge to the Satcher nomination, so it’s probably safe for the CDC chief to go househunting in the Washington area and start writing that lecture about the imperfect state of America’s health.