Arkansas Center for Health Improvement

Dr. Joycelyn Elders Receives Dr. Tom Bruce Arkansas Health Impact Award

Article Date: 11/7/2017

For Immediate Release
November 7, 2017

For more information contact:
John Lyon, Strategic Communications Manager
(501) 526-2250

Dr. Joycelyn Elders Receives Dr. Tom Bruce Arkansas Health Impact Award
from Arkansas Center for Health Improvement

LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement announced today that former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders is the recipient of the 2017 Dr. Tom Bruce Arkansas Health Impact Award.

“Doctor Elders has spent her life blazing trails and advocating fearlessly for public health,” said Dr. Joe Thompson, ACHI’s president and CEO and former Arkansas surgeon general. “From breaking down societal barriers as an African American woman navigating medical education to defying convention with her outspoken stances as a top-level healthcare official, Dr. Elders has been an inspiring example of the enormous positive impact one person can have on her state and the nation.”

Dr. Elders received the Dr. Tom Bruce Arkansas Health Impact Award in a ceremony Monday evening at the Robinson Center in Little Rock. The award is given to an individual who embodies the late Dr. Tom Bruce’s lifetime of service by demonstrating courageous leadership and a sustained record as a catalyst for improving the health of all Arkansans, and who exemplifies the core values of ACHI: trust, commitment, innovation and initiative.

Dr. Elders was born to a poor sharecropping family in Howard County, Ark. The eldest of eight children, she spent much of her childhood working in cotton fields. She enrolled in Philander Smith College in Little Rock on a scholarship, becoming the first member of her family to attend college, and graduated in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in biology.

In 1953, she joined the Army’s Medical Specialist Corps, where she was trained as a physical therapist. She went on to attend the University of Arkansas Medical School on the G.I. Bill, obtaining her M.D. in 1960. In that year she also married Oliver Elders, now retired from coaching at Little Rock Hall High School. They have two children, Eric and Kevin.

Dr. Elders began serving as assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in 1967. She was promoted to associate professor in 1971 and professor in 1976. She received board certification as a pediatric endocrinologist in 1978, becoming the first person in Arkansas to do so.

In 1987, then-Gov. Bill Clinton appointed Dr. Elders as director of the Arkansas Department of Health; she was the first African American woman to hold the position. In 1993, after taking office as president, Clinton appointed Dr. Elders as U.S. surgeon general. She was the first African American woman—and the second woman after Dr. Antonia Novello—to serve in that post.

In Arkansas and in Washington, Dr. Elders focused on issues such as tobacco-related disease, AIDS, alcohol and drug abuse, and teen pregnancy. She drew praise and controversy for taking bold stands on such topics as sex education and contraception. She resigned as U.S. surgeon general in December 1994 and returned to UAMS, where she is now professor emeritus of pediatrics. Her many honors have included induction into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame.

Dr. Tom Bruce, the namesake for the Health Impact Award, was dean of the state’s college of medicine for a decade and a pioneer in the field of community health. He is remembered for improving and expanding the college of medicine and for addressing a shortage of physicians in the state’s rural areas through the formation of the Area Health Education Centers (AHECs), which bring physician trainees to less-populated areas of Arkansas. He and his wife, Dolores, also paved the way for the establishment of ACHI with a $100,000 seed donation.

Dr. Elders is the second person to receive the award. The inaugural recipient in 2016 was Dr. Joseph H. Bates, deputy state health officer and chief science officer with the Arkansas Department of Health, and professor of epidemiology and associate dean of the College of Public Health at UAMS.

The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement is a nonpartisan, independent health policy center that serves as a catalyst to improve the health of Arkansans.

For more on Dr. Elders' life and career, please watch this video on the 2017 recipient of the Dr. Tom Bruce Arkansas Health Impact Award.


Arkansas Center for Health Improvement
1401 West Capitol
Suite 300 (Victory Building)
Little Rock, AR 72201