Former surgeon general calls for youth in health research

Thursday, January 21, 2016 - 5:26pm

DETROIT — Dr. David Satcher — former surgeon general of the United States and assistant secretary for health — spoke in Detroit to members and supporters of the city’s Urban Research Center on the future of public health and the impact young adults can have in the field Thursday.

“I can’t stop thinking about tomorrow, just can’t stop thinking about tomorrow,” Satcher said, in reference to the popular Fleetwood Mac tune.

The Detroit URC, which partners with the University’s schools of Nursing, Public Health and Social Work, held its 20th anniversary symposium, titled “Advancing Partnerships, Research, & Equity in Detroit” at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Detroit Thursday morning.

Adhering closely to a theme of fostering leadership among today’s youth, Satcher emphasized what he identified as his number one concern for the future of the public health field: lack of young talent in the field.

“We’re not seeing enough young leaders emerging,” he told the audience. “Who is going to be doing this 10 years from now? Twenty years from now? Degrees don’t necessarily make leaders; we need people who are inspired and motivated to lead.”

As director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1995, Satcher was instrumental in the establishment of the organization. The symposium was as much a celebration of the Detroit URC’s 20 years of commitment to the promotion of community-based participatory research and health equity as it was an ode to Satcher’s life work in the field of public health.

Satcher went on to pose a challenge to the young people in attendance: Be continually learning about public health issues to help prevent nationwide crises, such as the Flint water crisis, where city tap water was contaminated with toxic levels of lead.

“There will be crises of leadership and we won’t be there," he said. "We need young people to take up the helm, to tackle urban health problems like the one in Flint, Michigan. We need to realize what it takes for everyone to have the opportunity to lead a healthy life.”

He was honored with plaques both by the organization and Isaiah McKinnon, deputy mayor of Detroit, standing in for Mayor Mike Duggan who was unable to attend.

“I think (Satcher) brought up a lot of great points,” said Sheena Martenies, Ph.D. candidate in the University’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences. “You can’t just stop with challenging an issue, you have to move forward and deal with it. I thought that was very inspirational.”

The symposium also included information sessions on studies from the Detroit URC, such as ones on researching the social determinants — demographic characteristics, exposure to air pollution, social environments — of health inequities.

In an interview after Satcher’s address, Linda Pappas, communications specialist for the Detroit URC, described the symposium as a two-fold event to both celebrate the center’s research and to encourage young adults to pursue the fields of public health and urban research.

“One, to celebrate 20 years of success in fostering health equity through community-based participatory research (and) really celebrating how community comes together with academics to do research to benefit the health of communities,” she said. “But then also to inspire people for the next generation to take on this important work.”