In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to acknowledge the tremendous contributions of Black Americans to the Department, the MHS—and all of medical science. In many ways, they make our readiness mission possible.
Much of what we do every day is owed to these great Americans. Black clinicians, scientists, and health care leaders are responsible for countless medical innovations and advancements in care.
Pioneers like Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, III were among the first to successfully perform open heart surgery. Dr. Jane Cooke Wright led groundbreaking chemotherapy research and was a founding member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Civil rights leader Dr. William G. Anderson worked to improve the health and wellbeing of Black communities, becoming the first Black president of the American Osteopathic Association.
Of course, these are just a few of the truly transformative legacies that have impacted generations to come. I’d encourage you to take a moment to look up and read about even more. Beyond our work, their examples of serving the whole offer so much more to look back on, reflect—and aspire to.
It’s why the MHS makes diversity and inclusion such a priority. We’re simply stronger as an enterprise when we engage and have the perspectives of all people. We not only benefit from an endless pool of talent and experience, but we gain a better understanding of the people and communities we serve.
These values also underscore our focus on access to care. As a nation, this is an area where we continue to struggle. Far too many of us are either uninsured or lack access altogether, leading to wider disparities, and avoidable illness and death. While not perfect, according to some studies, the direct care system sees fewer disparities and better outcomes for people of color than in the civilian health sector. We need to continue to close those gaps and make it part of our DNA. We understand scale, diversity, and the importance of reaching our beneficiaries, whoever they are and wherever they are in the world.
This is something we should all be incredibly proud of. So, thank you for all that you do every day and for the model you continue to provide for our industry and nation.
In closing, I hope you can join me this month in both recognizing and reflecting on the history of Black Americans and their contributions to both medicine and our country.
I also realize you’re reading this at the beginning of a long Presidents Day weekend. Please stay safe and enjoy the extra time to rest and recharge. You’ve earned it.
Dr. David J. Smith, M.D.
Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense – Health Affairs
Department of Defense