Former Surgeon General speaks about healthcare

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Joycelyn Elders informed students about healthcare and that Indiana falls behind in many categories. Photo contributed by Todd Moore

Joycelyn Elders informed students about healthcare and that Indiana falls behind in many categories. Photo contributed by Todd Moore

Author, professor and former Surgeon General of the United States Joycelyn Elders visited the University of  Indianapolis on Sept. 29. As part of the Katherine Ratliff Memorial Conference, Elders was the keynote speaker and spoke about “Addressing Healthcare Disparities” in the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center.

According to, then-President Bill Clinton appointed Elders as Surgeon General of the Public Health Service from 1993-1994 until she resigned because of a controversial remark on sex education.  According to Elders, she hopes she made a good impact.

“I think the impact that I had as Surgeon General is that I increased the ability to address some of the sexual health problems that we have in our country,” Elders said. “We were very silent about sexual health, and I was the Surgeon General in the middle of the AIDS epidemic.”

Elders was known for her controversial remarks, according to, but she said it is not important to be controversial.

“I think that the topics that I was talking about were controversial topics,” Elders said. “And they still are controversial. There are people that still won’t talk about these topics and don’t like to talk about these topics.”

Elders came to UIndy to speak about health disparities that not only affect Indiana, but the United States as a whole. Elders gave her speech and took time for questions at the end of her presentation.

According to junior exercise science and pre-physical therapy major Kylie Barnett, the presentation was worthwhile.

“I thought it was very thought-provoking, and I believe that she [Elders] made a lot of good points about educating our society,” Barnett said. “I liked her [Elders’] quote about ‘children raising children,’  because we aren’t educating our aging population enough to take care of society today.”

Elders said Indiana falls behind in many categories such as teen pregnancy, those with health insurance versus those without, safe sex practices and sexually transmitted diseases. Graduate student in psychology Lawrence Haynes was surprised to find that Indiana was not doing well in these categories.

“I think it was a great presentation,” Haynes said. “I think that she [Elders] addressed issues that we have been faced with for a long time.”

One of Elders’ main points in the presentation was that college students should be concerned and that they have a huge responsibility to make sure that health disparities do not continue.

“They [college students] are going to be the new leaders of the next century, and they have got to meet the challenge of making sure that we have a good system in place,” Elders said. “They have got to learn [that] what we need to do is listen to the people, making sure that we educate them so that they can do more to take care of themselves.”

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