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Elders shares vision for future during Mary Frances Early Lecture

According to Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders, the first African-American appointed U.S. surgeon general and professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, that is the key to a better society. Elders spoke on "Bridging the Gap in Higher Education"at the 17th annual Mary Frances Early Lecture April 5 at the Georgia Museum of Art.

"We've got to build a bridge that everybody—that all—can get across. The bridge has to support itself, and so we have to make sure that we build a group of bright young people for the 21st century who can take of themselves," she said.

Elders emphasized the lessons she learned in her position as director of the Arkansas Department of Health. 

"I saw patients and thought I was a pretty good doctor. But I didn't think about their home. I didn't think about their environment. I didn't think about where they came from. I just thought about my taking care of their acute illness, giving them a prescription and sending them home," she said. "As health director, I learned a lot. I learned that social environments are far more important than what I thought was my good doctoring."

Elders believes that education and prevention are important to a true health care system. Teaching people how to take care of themselves helps create a stronger, healthier society. Her vision for the future includes a patient-centered, prevention-focused, purpose-driven and solution-oriented health care system.

The event, part of the Signature Lecture Series, is named for Mary Frances Early, the first African-American to earn a degree from UGA, and her legacy at the university. Early graduated with a master's degree in music education in 1962 and completed her specialist in education degree in 1967.

"It's a joy to be here," Early said. "When I reflect on my time here at the University of Georgia, I can see progress many of you can't see because you have been here when things were the way they are now. But they have not always been that way, and I can attest to the fact that we have made a lot of progress."