Dr. Louis Sullivan – renowned health policy leader, minority health advocate, physician, author, and educator – will give the commencement address at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s graduation May 9.

For more than two decades Sullivan served in crucial leadership positions at the Morehouse School of Medicine, the nation’s first predominantly black medical school. In 1975, he became the founding dean and director of the medical education program at Morehouse College. The Atlanta-based program became the School of Medicine at Morehouse College and was later renamed the Morehouse School of Medicine.

“Dr. Sullivan’s experience as a founding dean of a new medical school makes his visit to the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine particularly relevant,” said Dr. Cynda Johnson, founding dean of the school. “We are more than honored to have him address our graduates during the school’s second commencement.”

Sullivan has served in several high-profile national government offices, including chair of the President’s Commission on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, co-chair of the President’s Commission on HIV and AIDS, and secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 1989 to 1993. In this cabinet position, he managed the federal agency responsible for the national major health, welfare, food and drug safety, medical research, and income security programs.

Some of his most notable accomplishments in that role included establishment of the Office of Minority Health and the Women’s Health Research Program at the National Institutes of Health; the release of Healthy People 2000, a guide for improved health promotion; and inauguration of a $100 million minority male health and injury prevention initiative.

Sullivan now serves as chairman of the board of the National Health Museum, an Atlanta-based organization whose goal is to improve the health of Americans by enhancing health literacy and wellness behaviors. He is also chairman of the Washington, D.C.–based Sullivan Alliance, a national nonprofit group devoted to diversifying health professions.

“I am so excited for us to attract a commencement speaker of Dr. Sullivan’s stature,” said Karen Eley Sanders, chief diversity officer for the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Sanders met Sullivan in 2004 when Virginia Tech became part of the Virginia-Nebraska Alliance, a subgroup of the Sullivan Alliance.

“After I told him about the school and the work we are doing to promote diversity, including a pipeline program with Hampton University, he graciously and enthusiastically accepted our invitation to speak,” said Sanders, who is also Virginia Tech’s associate vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs and director of student success. “I am excited about what this means for us in terms of future diversity efforts.”

Earlier this year, Sullivan received an NAACP Image Award for his recent book, Breaking Ground: My Life in Medicine, published by the University of Georgia Press. The NAACP Image Award celebrates the accomplishments of people of color in literature, film, television, and music, and honors individuals or groups who promote social justice through creative endeavors.

Sullivan is the recipient of more than 60 honorary degrees, including an honorary doctor of medicine from the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

“For more than 50 years, Dr. Sullivan has dedicated himself to improving minority health and fostering greater diversity in health care policy, education, and professions,” Johnson said. “I know our graduates will be inspired by both his example and his words.”

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine will graduate 40 new doctors in the second commencement in its history on May 9 in Roanoke.

Written by Catherine Doss.
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