Elders reflects on her public life
Former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders discussed six lessons that she
has learned from public life during the fourth annual Rosalynn Carter Distinguished
Lecture on Oct. 16. Elders, whom President Bill Clinton fired nearly two
years ago for her remarks on drug legalization and sex education, focused
her remarks on public life, health care and her hopes for the future.
The first three of the six lessons Elders' cited are: 1) power is not given;
it is taken away; 2) it is important to set your own agenda; 3) people are
often afraid of change, so good timing is essential.
"If the time is not right, the people are not right," Elders said.
"If the people are not right, the money is not right. If the money
is not right, then you are not right. This leads to the fourth lesson of
public life; a leader must have gumption. It takes a great deal of time
and effort to change things for the better, and so public life requires
the gumption to make demands with clarity, and stick to them. Leadership
is not a solitary endeavor, however, and so a leader must also not be afraid
to ask for help." She cited the importance of facilitating teamwork
as the fifth lesson.
"Sixth, don't worry about who gets the credit," Elders continued.
"One of the toughest responsibilities and sacrifices of leadership
is humility. As a leader, the welfare of the governed is much more important
than the recognition of the leader's efforts. Therefore, public life often
involves more hard work than gratitude. The most important thing is that
the job gets done properly."
Elders' discussion about health care focused on its problems and her solutions.
She said the major problems with the existing health care system are the
"four CEUs," meaning that the system is not coherent, comprehensive,
equitable or universal.
Solving these problems, Elders said, will require a greater investment in
preventive medicine, such as education, prenatal care, immunization and
contraception. She also believes that if women are healthy, then children
are healthy. Therefore, any health care system must meet the needs of women.
An often controversial figure during her days as surgeon general, Elders
said that she has no regrets about her performance in that role and that
she learned a great deal from the experience. Elders said the goal of any
surgeon general is improving the health of the nation, and she feels that
preventive medicine is essential for achieving her goal of an educated,
healthy and hopeful population of Americans.
to the October 28, 1996 contents page