Jerome Adams

Jerome Adams, MD
The 20th Surgeon General of the United States, Distinguished Professor, Presidential Fellow & Executive Director of Health Equity Initiatives at Purdue

After growing up poor and Black in a Southern rural community, Jerome Adams went on to lead the 6,000 person U.S. Public Health Service as “America’s Doctor” during a worldwide pandemic. As Surgeon General, he brought a passionate commitment to fighting issues that his own family and community experienced, including limited healthcare access, chronic disease, substance use disorder and ensuing stigma, tobacco addiction, maternal health, mental illness and the opioid epidemic. Dr. Adams’ talks merge his expertise at the forefront of national and global health policy with his own personal experiences: growing up with life-threatening asthma, as a brother to someone with substance use disorder, and as someone navigating politics to tirelessly champion the health of the vulnerable and voiceless during times of crisis.

Dr. Adams’ experience with healthcare began as a patient. As a child with chronic asthma, he suffered an attack so severe that he was airlifted, barely breathing, from his home in rural southern Maryland to a hospital in Washington D.C. As a student, he excelled in science, math and technology and was awarded a scholarship to study biochemistry at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. It was there that he first met a Black physician (“You have to see it to be it!”) and was inspired to pursue a career in medicine. Adams was featured in the film “Black Men in White Coats,” which tackles the issues around why Black men aren’t becoming physicians and what that means for society.

Dr. Adams was awarded a scholarship to Indiana University Medical School, earned his Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley and went on to work in private practice as an anesthesiologist in rural Indiana. He was recruited back to Indiana University Medical School, rising to the rank of associate professor. During this time, Dr. Adams caught the eye of Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who appointed him as Indiana State Health Commissioner. Dr. Adams triumphed in that role, handling Ebola, Zika, the nation’s largest HIV and Hepatitis C outbreak associated with IV drug use, and a lead contamination situation in Northern Indiana that drew comparisons to the crisis in Flint, Michigan. His leadership during the HIV/Hepatitis C outbreak has been heralded for dramatically reducing infection via a needle exchange program that Dr. Adams championed through a highly conservative state legislature, paving the way for many other states to subsequently start or expand such services.

In 2016, Dr. Adams followed then-Vice President Pence to Washington as America’s 20th Surgeon General. He brought with him an ambitious goal to tackle the raging opioid crisis and make naloxone widely available. His agenda also included addressing health disparities such as maternal health and promoting community health and wellness through engagement with businesses and employers. As Surgeon General, Adams faced three category five hurricanes in a row: an e-cigarette/vaping epidemic among youth and a once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic that was combined with a once-in-a-generation level of political strife and national division. Through it all, he stayed at the table, as one of the only high-level Black voices in the administration. Dr. Adams leveraged his position to advocate for disproportionately hard-hit communities of color and address the systemic health disparities that COVID shone a bright light on. As Dr. Adams often says, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Throughout his career, he has continued a hands-on approach to medicine, maintaining hospital privileges and becoming the only Surgeon General in recent history to actively practice while in office. The Bipartisan Policy Center launched an opioid task force to address drug addiction and overdose deaths in the U.S., and Dr. Adams is a member. This new group will develop policy to reduce drug overdose deaths and combat the national opioid crisis, which it described as an epidemic within the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Adams is also working with the Pro Football Hall of Fame on their new mental health initiative called Hall of Fame Health to help spread the word about mental health, addiction, and health equity.

Dr. Adams is chairman of the Indiana State Trauma Care Committee and as co-chairman of the Indiana Perinatal Quality Improvement Collaborative Governing Council. Dr. Adams is a fellow of The University of Virginia Darden School of Business Dean’s D.C. Fellows program, which assembles innovative and intellectually accomplished experts who have distinguished themselves in fields outside of academia. These fellows collaborate with Darden faculty and students in a variety of ways. Most recently, he became a Distinguished Professor, Presidential Fellow and Executive Director of Health Equity Initiatives at Purdue.