And today our commissioned officers are 6,500 officers strong, and we administer health programs across the country and abroad. We also provide healthcare to people, health clinics and Indian reservations and federal penitentiaries. And there's been many milestones of health prevention and public health, and many of you know all of those: developing the vaccines, the pasteurization of foods—and as many of you probably also know that I was a family physician in solo practice in Alabama before I got this job. So it was really with mixed feelings that I left my patients of 23 years to move to Washington. However, now I tend to say that I opened a new practice in D.C., and I have 300 million Americans as my new patients.
As America's doctor, I want to bring clarity and understanding to the overwhelmingly confusing conversations about health and healthcare, and prevention is the foundation of the nation's public health system. And prevention is the foundation of my work as surgeon general. As surgeon general, my priorities focus on wellness and prevention—things like obesity. I released my first paper, The Surgeon General's Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation back in early February, and along with Secretary (Kathleen) Sebelius and first lady Michelle Obama.
And two weeks later, we introduced the Let's Move campaign that the first lady is heading. The obesity campaign is really going strong. Another area is smoking and tobacco. I have a tobacco report that's coming out later this fall and another one in early January. HIV/AIDS, particularly in women and girls, it's going up and not going down. We tend to take for granted the fact that we have drugs to treat HIV/AIDS. We don't realize that people are still dying from the disease.
Another area is mental health in all aspects, particularly in the Gulf Coast area right now as a result of the oil spill. Violence is another area. Youth violence, gender violence, domestic violence, violence in the workplace, but particularly youth violence—youth-on-youth violence here in Chicago particularly—the Justice Department and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is helping us work together to figure out ways to decrease this almost epidemic area of violence amongst are youth.
Another thing we're doing is we're releasing a paper in about a month on breast feeding. Breast feeding in this country, we're the only country that hasn't really embraced the idea of breast feeding. And there's so many benefits to it, and you'll hear me talk about that later in the months to come. And throughout all of this, we want to eliminate health disparities. And everything we do, we're addressing health disparities. The health reform law, the Affordable Care Act, established the prevention, health promotion and public health council, which I share. And the members on that council include cabinet-level heads of agencies. That signifies the fact and the importance of the council. And the purpose of this council is to establish a national prevention strategy, and I'll be sending my first status report to the president tomorrow and as well as to Congress. And this council, the idea is to move this country from a system of sick care to a system of wellness and prevention. It's going to be tough but it will—we can do it; I think it can happen.
The other area that we have in the health reform bill is the United States Public Health Services Track, which you may not have heard a lot about. This is a system that's, it says “emphasizes a team-based public health epidemiology and preparedness and response.” These are 850 students in various disciplines who will get scholarships and stipends to go into public health careers. And they will pay back their time in areas where they are needed, in underserved communities and such. They include dental schools, nursing public health schools.
This law will help us address our workforce needs with an emphasis on minorities. So, as surgeon general, I get to establish the curriculum for these 850 per year, and as well as work with the schools to develop it. You know you never know who's watching you, and when I was in my office a few years back, I remember I got my name in a magazine and actually my picture in a magazine, and I used to not want to talk to reporters because they call you up and ask you the same questions that is written in the magazine. But they wanted a direct quote, and I'd be seeing patients and I would always kind of dread it till one day I got in the mail an envelope—a manila envelope—filled with letters from a second-grade class. And each one of them said, ‘I want to be a doctor just like you.' And I realized it wasn't about me at all, and it was about those kids. And so whenever a reporter calls, I now answer because I realize that even if just one of them became a doctor or a nurse or anything, it was worth it.
Another example is when I was on the AMA (American Medical Association) board of trustees. There was—those of you who have been to an AMA meeting realize it's a meeting of several thousand doctors and it's kind of a big deal, but being on the board, we would meet between the meetings. And we were meeting down in this kind of basement level and the room was pretty big. Every person had a microphone and it was staff in the back. And I happened to be the only African American in there, and there were two of us that were women. And I went back to get something off my table, and there was a kind of older janitor who was straightening up, and he says to me, ‘Ma'am, can I say something to you?' I said, ‘Sure.' He says, ‘I just want you to know that we know you're here, and we're very proud of you—the ladies in the kitchen, and I even told my granddaughter about you.' You never know who's watching you. And, because of that, you realize that where we are, we have an opportunity to set wonderful examples, and that's why this particular award means so much, because it's not about me or my 24 other fellow awardees, but it's about those who are looking at us and may one day themselves decide that they want to be an executive, or they want to earn this very award. And hopefully they'll do it even better than we did.
And I've had the opportunity of learning some formal leadership skills. I was a Kellogg national leader and a Rockefeller next generation leader. One of the styles of leadership that I like—well there's two—one is a servant leader—and you all know about the servant leader—and the other one is leadership from behind. And that is when you rise to the level of success that you reach back and you pull someone else up with you. And you don't forget to pull them up. But a great leader doesn't stop there. They will then push them out in front. And like the young people will say, ‘They let them know that they have their back.' So if they attempt to try to fall, they know that you're back there to catch them. And you will make them better leaders than you are. And I hope that some of us will take this, and some of our younger people will see this award and this magazine, and we can then push them forward, and we can have their back. And so on behalf of all of us who are receiving this award and this recognition, I'd say thank you to Modern Healthcare for giving this that opportunity.
David Burda: This is Dave Burda for Modern Healthcare.