Louis Sullivan served as the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 1989 to 1993. He was the founding president of Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.
Academic Medical Career
Born in Atlanta on November 3, 1933, Louis Wade Sullivan was the second of two sons born to Lubirda and Walter Sullivan. Most of Sullivan’s childhood was spent in Blakely, where his father moved the family in 1937 to open Early County’s first, and only, Black funeral parlor. In 1944 Sullivan’s mother, a teacher, moved back to Atlanta to complete graduate work in education at Atlanta University (later Clark Atlanta University), and she took her sons with her. There they attended Booker T. Washington High School, and in 1950 Sullivan entered Morehouse College, where he graduated magna cum laude four years later. He then proceeded to earn his medical degree, cum laude, from the Boston University School of Medicine in 1958. Sullivan completed his internship and residency at New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center, specializing in hematology. He is board certified in internal medicine and hematology.
Sullivan began his career teaching at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the New Jersey College of Medicine, and as a researcher at Thorndike Memorial Laboratory in Boston. He later became the codirector of hematology at Boston University Medical Center and founded the Boston University Hematology Service at Boston City Hospital. He remained a faculty member at Boston University School of Medicine until 1975. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, has received many honorary degrees, and has been honored by many organizations, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In 1975 Sullivan became the founding dean and director of the medical education program at Morehouse College, the first minority medical school founded in the United States in the twentieth century. With Sullivan as its dean and first president, Morehouse School of Medicine became independent from Morehouse College on July 1, 1981.
In 1989 Sullivan was appointed by U.S. president George H. W. Bush to lead the nation’s policy efforts and champion the health and welfare of the country as secretary of health and human services. He served almost four years in the position, battling the tobacco industry and serving as a champion and advocate of AIDS sufferers and caregivers.
Sullivan returned to Morehouse School of Medicine in 1993, serving as president until his retirement on July 1, 2002, and remains a member of the school’s board of trustees. In 2003 he was elected as a trustee of the National Health Museum, and serves on the boards of Medical Education for South African Blacks, Africare, Southern Center for International Studies, and Association for Academic Health Centers, and on the editorial board of Minority Health Today. He has also served on the boards of several national corporations.
In 1999 Sullivan hosted thirty-nine episodes of the public television show Frontiers of Medicine. He has frequently spoken on public policy regarding health issues and trends in health care management. He has been particularly active in promoting immunization, pain management, smoking cessation, and effective and humane public policy regarding AIDS. He is founding president of the Association of Minority Health Professions Schools and has advised the government in its research on sickle cell anemia.
In 2003 Sullivan began collaborating with David Satcher, the former U.S. surgeon general and director of the National Center for Primary Care at Morehouse School of Medicine, to develop a “virtual textbook” called TOP MED (Topics on Pain Medicine). TOP MED’s content is based on best practices in pain diagnosis and treatment. It was developed to bridge the gaps in medical students’ training in dealing with pain in their patients. To alleviate what Sullivan calls an “epidemic” of untreated pain, the resource is to be made available free of charge to medical students across the country.
Sullivan worked to develop a center at Morehouse School of Medicine to focus on the AIDS epidemic in Africa and to study African American health issues. In May 2003 he was appointed chair of the president’s Board of Advisers on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The White House cited his founding of the Association of Minority Health Professions Schools and his advice to the government on sickle cell anemia issues.
In 2014 Sullivan published his autobiography, Breaking Ground: My Life in Medicine, with the University of Georgia Press. In the book’s foreword, his friend Andrew Young notes that “Sullivan remains one of the medical world’s wisest and most inspirational public voices.”
Sullivan and his wife, Ginger, have three children and live in Atlanta.