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Surgeons General Discuss the Future of Healthcare in Geisel Roundtable Event

“How can misinformation and disinformation be addressed in the public health sphere? What are some strategies that can be taken to reverse health disparities and inequities in healthcare? What can be done to combat physician burnout?”

These were some of the questions addressed in a roundtable event with five visiting former U.S. Surgeons General held on Friday morning at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

The event, co-sponsored by Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth Health, and the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth, followed a similar forum held on Thursday at Dartmouth College on the future of mental health and wellness.

Friday’s event kicked off with welcoming remarks by Geisel Dean Duane Compton, PhD, and Steven Bernstein, MD, chief research officer at Dartmouth Health, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research at Geisel, and director of the C. Everett Koop Institute.

Bernstein touched on contributions by former Surgeon General and Geisel faculty member C. Everett Koop to public health and acknowledged the presence of his wife Cora Koop in the audience, which included students, trainees, and other members of the Dartmouth community.

Former surgeons general Joycelyn Elders, MD, MS, Kenneth Moritsugu, MD, MPH, FACPM, Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, FASA, and Antonia Novello, MD, MPH, Dr.PH, shared their perspectives on a range of issues affecting the future of healthcare at the meeting—which was organized by Lisa McBride, PhD, associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at Geisel, and moderated by Pierre Theodore, MD, director of health equity and patient impact, global pharmaceutical at Roche-Genentech.

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Photos by Rob Strong

The surgeons general shared their concerns about today’s politically divisive climate and urged the students and trainees to stay engaged as leaders in their communities and to work with those they might not agree with to advance public health initiatives.

“Too many of us are checking out of the game and that’s going to hurt the people who we most claim to be wanting to help,” said Adams. “As surgeons general, we’ve all found ways to advocate for health equity and the issues we’ve cared about. You can’t change the game from the sidelines.”

While acknowledging the potential for new technologies like AI and ChatGPT to improve healthcare delivery, the panel stressed the importance of developing high-quality data and technology that is inclusive of minorities and that can be accessed by more patients.

“Science is very important, but there is an art as well,” said Benjamin. “We can’t allow that art portion, that human touch part to be lost. That interaction with patients is the best part of medicine.”

Among other topics, the group also talked about how more needs to be done to address the social determinants of health, which play a major role in health outcomes. And how incentives and supports need to be put into place to reduce burnout, increase primary care compensation and capacity, and help physicians and their care teams to feel more valued and respected.

“Recognizing that the world is facing a new generation of challenges and opportunities in healthcare, it was a pleasure to bring together five former U.S. Surgeons General who served from 1990 to 2021—to confront the most significant issues affecting medical research, preventative care, and public health,” said McBride.

“We heard innovative thoughts, perspectives, and strategies from the ‘nation’s doctor’ on technological advances, the health care ecosystem, and the need to address mental health access to care— specifically the need to increase the personal touch of primary care physicians to the care team. More than anything, they discussed the hidden crisis of mental health in our colleges and universities and left us with an increased sense of hope for the future.

It is my personal wish that this historic gathering serves as a ‘call to action’ for the Geisel/Dartmouth Health community and beyond, to lead the way in addressing and preventing the multiple reasons that have driven Americans in this country to feel unheard and uncared for,” she said.