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NLM Director’s Comments Transcript
C. Everett Koop M.D., 1916-2013: 03/11/2013

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus.gov

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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NLM remembers the stellar and diverse contributions of former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop M.D., 1916-2013.

Dr. Koop, who was a member of NLM’s Board of Regents in the 1980s, will be remembered as the surgeon general who put public health first and strived to expand the public understanding of health and medicine. At the time of his death, the New York Times reported Dr. Koop (and we quote), ‘was widely regarded as the most influential surgeon general in American history’ (end of quote). 

As the Times and several other newspapers and magazines noted, his tenure as the U.S. surgeon general was distinguished by an array of initiatives that advanced the nation’s health.

For example, the Times reports Dr. Koop raised public awareness about the health risks from exposure to secondhand smoke throughout his tenure as the U.S. surgeon general (during the Reagan administration in the 1980s). Dr. Koop frequently referred to smoking cessation as the nation’s most important public health issue.

Dr. Koop supervised reports from the surgeon general’s office that updated the risks of smoking and tobacco use from the office’s previous efforts, which began in the 1960s. You can find many of these and other reports from the surgeon general’s office by typing ‘surgeon general reports’ in any Internet search engine.

Yet, the Wall Street Journal suggests Dr. Koop’s legacy may be his efforts to educate the American public about HIV/AIDS — and encourage public health agencies to be more responsive to the needs of HIV/AIDS patients. The Journal (as well as other remembrances of Dr. Koop) note his HIV/AIDS efforts occurred at a time when related high profile activities often received more criticism than praise.

The Journal adds Dr. Koop’s HIV/AIDS initiatives demonstrated his will to prioritize a pressing public health issue even when aspects of HIV’s patient-to-patient disease transmission were uncomfortable to his personal, evangelical religious beliefs.

The Journal’s column about Dr. Koop concludes with what he said to improve the public understanding of HIV/AIDS in 1986 (and we quote): ‘It is time to put self-defeating attitudes aside and recognize that we are fighting a disease – not people’ (end of quote).

A recent article on NLM’s home page adds Dr. Koop’s leadership fostered public awareness about the health impact of domestic violence and the clinical needs of disabled Americans. The article on NLM’s home page also notes Dr. Koop’s pioneering role in using the Internet to educate Americans about health and medicine.

Fittingly, many of Dr. Koop’s personal papers and manuscripts are available within NLM’s Profiles In Science website. The collected papers include special sections on HIV/AIDS, smoking cessation, and the politics of public health. To find Dr. Koop’s papers, type ‘NLM Profiles in Science’ in any web browser. Then, click on Dr. Koop’s name.

Dr. Lindberg knew Dr. Koop for more than four decades. The morning after Dr. Koop’s death Dr. Lindberg said (and we quote). ‘It is especially fitting that his (Dr. Koop’s) papers are part of the Library’s online collection, Profiles in Science, given that he was such a strong advocate of health information for the public and the use of the Internet for disseminating it’ (end of quote).

Other NLM staff members recall Dr. Koop’s sizeable stature and forceful personality. While he commanded respect, Dr. Koop consistently used his status to intervene on behalf of medically underserved Americans. His passion to enhance the nation’s health will be missed by all who had the pleasure to meet and work with him.

MedlinePlus.gov contains health topic pages on HIV/AIDS and secondhand smoke that provide a comprehensive overview with many links to evidence-based websites. To find MedlinePlus.gov’s secondhand smoking health topic page, please type “secondhand smoke’ in the search box at the top of MedlinePlus.gov’s home page, then, click on ‘Secondhand smoke (National Library of Medicine).’ To find MedlinePlus.gov’s HIV/AIDS health topic page, type ‘HIV/AIDS’ in the search box at the top of MedlinePlus.gov’s home page, then, click on ‘HIV/AIDS (National Library of Medicine).’ MedlinePlus.gov also has health topic pages that cover quitting smoking and as well as additional HIV/AIDS related health issues.

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