WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher announced Tuesday that he would step down as the nation's top doctor next month and become the first director of the National Center of Primary Care at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.
"The opportunity to return to Atlanta, and especially to Morehouse School of Medicine, and continue to work as a public health leader was one I couldn't resist," said Satcher.
Satcher, a Clinton administration appointee, will take the helm of the policy and research institution at the predominantly black, all-male school as he leaves in February the post he has occupied for four years. He has been the nation's 16th surgeon general. After his departure he will also work as a visiting senior fellow with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and work on his memoirs.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy B. Thompson called Satcher "a tireless advocate for preventing disease and promoting better health."
"His efforts to deal with a wide range of important health problems, especially disparities in health among various populations, have a tremendous impact on the health and well-being of our nation," Thompson said in a statement Tuesday.
It is unclear who President George W. Bush will tap to replace Satcher, though it is expected to be a physician who supports the administration's anti-abortion views. Speculation has surfaced that Bush may be seeking a physician with experience in bioterrorism.
Expertise in chemical and biological terrorism became important to the administration after anthrax-tainted letters were sent to government officials and news organizations, and contaminated post offices around the country, killing five people, including two postal workers.
Satcher will work alongside Dr. Louis Sullivan, president of the Morehouse School of Medicine and former Health and Human Services secretary in the first Bush administration.
"We wanted him to once again become a part of our institution's culture of excellence," Sullivan said.
Satcher returns to Atlanta where he had served as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the government's medical facilities. Before joining the Bush administration, he was president of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.
Like his predecessors C. Everett Koop and Joycelyn Elders, Satcher drew fire for his views on sexuality. He drew fire from the Bush White House and Republican conservatives last year after he released a report saying that no evidence existed supporting the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs.
The White House quickly distanced itself from Satcher saying those statements had come from a surgeon general it did not appoint.
Most recently Satcher issued a "call to action," saying some 300,000 deaths a year are related to obesity, and calling for the removal of fast-food from schools. Satcher also spent his term focusing on suicide, mental health, and racial disparities in health care. He also drew attention to smoking prevention as the Clinton administration took aim at tobacco companies in federal court.
The surgeon general had said he wanted to work to restrict cigarette advertising directed towards children around the world. During a World Health Organization conference in October 2000, Satcher pointed out that smoking-related deaths globally would rise to 10 million per year by the year 2030, with 7 million occurring in developing countries.
Satcher had also supported needle-exchange programs to reduce the spread of the HIV virus and AIDS infection, calling the lack of support in Congress for the concept a "repudiation of science," much of which has been studies performed by federal researchers showing the idea effective.