Exclusive Commentary: Surgeons General Rock NOLA

If you were there, you felt the electricity.

6 U.S. Surgeons General lit up the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center’s great hall yesterday afternoon, talking candidly about their successes, failures and the nation’s health needs. Unburdened by political constraints, 5 former SGs surveyed their years in office, shared amusing stories and generally “preached to the choir” (the crowd erupted in applause after a mention of a breastfeeding initiative.)

The electricity of the event was tinged with a bit of sadness because of the years-long degradation of the office from political wrangling. The star power of these legendary leaders reaffirmed for me the huge potential impact of the office of Surgeon General. “You’ve got to be a Surgeon General with an agenda,” Antonia Novello said at one point.

A few highlights from the energizing session hosted by APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin:

Former Acting SG Steven Galson:

"Don’t let [politics over the Surgeon General’s position] stop you from being a public health rabble rouser."

Former SG David Satcher:

"The Surgeon General’s report on sexual health probably convinced the Bush administration that they ready for me to go."

"What the Surgeon General does for this country is irreplaceable. We need the Surgeon General to continue."

"If we could get full funding for the prevention agenda, we could become the healthiest country in the world."

Former SG Antonia Novello:

"I am a VIP, a very important Puerto Rican."

"Prevention cannot work if you don’t understand the culture of the people."

Former SG Regina Benjamin:

"The Surgeon General is a trusted voice for the American people."

Former SG Joycelyn Elders:

"I feel we need to transform our sick care system into a health care system."

Acting SG Boris Lushniak (on tobacco):

"Enough is enough!"

APHA continues through tomorrow morning.

—Brian W. Simpson, MPH, is Editor-in-Chief of Global Health NOW.

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