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 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. 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.
Now, as a speaker, Dr. Adams continues his 25-year mission in community and public health with unforgettable keynote speeches and frank, courageous, and insightful fireside chats. Never backing down from tough questions, he brings a passion for engagement that pulls him from behind the podium to genuinely interact with audiences during Q&A. Known for speaking plainly on an array of health topics, he customizes his talks to meet the interests of an array of audiences. With a calm and caring manner, Dr. Adams speaks from the heart with the goal of making every audience member feel that he is speaking directly to them.