While the 21st century has produced advances in public health, medical research and therapies, there is still work to be done to improve the health of our minority population, said former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan, M.D., at the UMKC School of Medicine. Sullivan was the keynote speaker at school’s 10th annual Dr. Reaner and Mr. Henry Shannon Lecture in Minority Health on Feb. 27.
“The greatest advances in the health of our population will occur if we are successful in engaging our patients to be partners in improving their health literacy and having them become partners not only in their health care, but more importantly, in staying healthy,” Sullivan said in his lecture, The State of Diversity 1965-2015.
Sullivan said that it is vital that the United States improve on the diversity of its health care workforce in order to improve the health literacy of the underserved and minority population. That, in turn, Sullivan said, will produce a stronger, more vibrant and more healthy nation.
Sullivan is chairman of the Sullivan Alliance to Transform the Health Professions, a Washington, D.C.,-based non-profit organization devoted to transforming and diversifying education in the health professions and health delivery systems. Six regional and state alliances have been established to develop programs and funding sources to that end and more are in the works. Diversity officers from Missouri’s medical schools met with Sullivan last November at the Association of American Medical Colleges’ national meeting in Chicago to discuss creating a statewide alliance. Sullivan met again with some of those leaders prior the Shannon Lecture to discuss the next steps in creating a Missouri alliance.
Sullian applauded the efforts of Reanor Shannon, Ph.D., the School of Medicine’s former associate dean for minority affairs, in addressing the issue of diversity in health care.
“This is really an extension of the goals that Dr. Shannon has had for many years,” Sullivan said. “I view the Missouri Alliance as a product of the interest Dr. Shannon has shown over the years and the things she has done at this institution.”
Rebecca Pauly, M.D., professor of medicine and biomedical and health informatics, served as one of the organizers for this year’s Shannon Lecture.
“We have a great opportunity for the state of Missouri,” Pauly said. “Leaders from UMKC, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Saint Louis University and Washington University are reaching beyond our institutional silos to collaborate and construct programs focused on improving the diversity of the health care workforce.”
A poster session in the School of Medicine lobby prior to the lecture displayed some of the diversity efforts of the school’s faculty and staff with topics ranging from the school’s cultural competency curriculum and its high school pipeline programs, to research focused on health disparities, community engagement and urban-serving institutions.
In addition to his work with the alliance, Sullivan is chairman of the board of Atlanta’s National Health Museum and is president emeritus of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, where he served as the founding dean.
During his tenure with the Department of Health and Human Services, Sullivan led numerous initiatives to improve public health in the United States. He drove an effort to increase the National Institutes of Health budget from $8.0 billion in 1989 to $13.1 billion in 1993, established the Office of Research on Minority Health, now the Institute for Research on Minority Health and Health Disparities, within the NIH, and inaugurated a number of programs including those in women’s health research and improving Food and Drug Administration food labeling.
He was also responsible for implementing greater gender and ethnic diversity in senior level positions within the department, including the appointment of the first female director of the NIH.
Sullivan earned his medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine and conducted his internal medicine residency at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. In 1975, Sullivan became the founding dean and director of the medical education program at what is now the Morehouse School of Medicine, a predominately black medical school. He served as president of the school for more than two decades before retiring and becoming president emeritus in 2001.
Shannon established the Shannon Lectureship with her husband, Henry, in 2006 just prior to her retirement from the School of Medicine. Former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders presented the first Shannon Lecture. Speakers of local and national interest have presented the lecture each February since in conjunction with Black History Month, focusing on timely topics that impact the underserved and minority communities.