The 15th US Surgeon General, Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders is currently a Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the University of Arkansas School of Public Health and a Distinguished Professor at the Clinton School of Public Policy. Her inspiring life story is documented in the film Healer, which is about Dr. Elders’ journey from sharecropper’s daughter to making history as the first African American Surgeon General. She never saw a physician prior to her first year in college. At the age of fifteen, she received a scholarship from the United Methodist Church to attend Philander-Smith College in Little Rock, AR. Upon graduation at age 18, she entered the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant where she received training as a physical therapist.
Dr. Elders attended the University of Arkansas Medical School (UAMS) on the G.I. Bill. After graduation in 1960, she was an intern at the University of Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis and did a pediatric residency and an endocrinology fellowship at the University of Arkansas Medical Center in Little Rock. She ascended the academic ladder to full professorship after her fellowship and board certification in 1976. She also holds a Master of Science degree in biochemistry.
Dr. Elders joined the faculty at UAMS as a professor of pediatrics and received board certification as a pediatric endocrinologist in 1978. Based on her studies of growth in children and the treatment of hormone related illnesses, she has written many articles for medical research publications and continues as Professor Emeritus University of Arkansas Medical School. She was appointed Director of the Arkansas Department of Health in 1987. While serving as director, she was elected president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers. Nominated as Surgeon General of the US Public Health Service by President Clinton in July of 1993, she was sworn in on September 8. During the Senate hearings on her confirmation, Dr. Elders stated “I want to change the way we think about health by putting prevention first. I want to be the voice and vision of the poor and powerless. I want to change concern about social problems that affect health into commitment. And I would like to make every child born in America a wanted child.” She is committed, passionate, and outspoken about health, healthcare, sexuality, and AIDS. Dr. Elders speaks widely about HIV/AIDS and remains hopeful about the advances sciences have made concerning the disease.
Dr. Elders has been active in civic affairs as a member of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, Northside YMCA and Youth Homes. She was listed in “100 Outstanding Women in Arkansas”, “Personalities of the South” and “Distinguished Women in America”. She has won awards such as the Arkansas Democrats Woman of the Year, the National Governors Association Distinguished Service Award, the American Medical Association’s Dr. Nathan Davis Award, and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women’s Candace Award for Health Science.