In 1973, in order to pay for her medical school expenses at the University of Pittsburgh, Jeanette E. South-Paul joined ROTC, the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps. Twenty-eight years later, Colonel Jeanette South-Paul, M.D., became the first woman and the first African American to serve as chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.
Throughout her career, both in the military and at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. South-Paul's goal has remained constant: "To help in improving the health status of disadvantaged people of color." With this in mind, Dr. South-Paul did postgraduate work in family practice at the Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Ft. Gordon, Georgia and later at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians and a diplomate of the American Board of Family Practice, Dr. South-Paul began teaching at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences(USUHS) in 1983. Rising through the military and teaching ranks, Dr. South-Paul concentrated her research and writing on the benefits of exercise, on cultural and racial sensitivity in medicine, and on providing better medical care to underserved populations. She explained, "This country has an emerging majority population that doesn't look like white middle America. If we don't attend to that, we are going to lose that segment of the population, who, by the way, now make up greater than 50 percent of new entrants into the workforce."
Seeing the medical imperative to provide comprehensive and compassionate care for all patients, Dr. South-Paul notes that, "More than 90 percent of health care spending in this country goes to people with less than two years to live, because we can provide incredibly high-tech services to them. Yet, if we could concentrate more on prevention, we would save money in the health system. As we structure our curricula in medical schools and training programs, we need to attend to issues of community health as well as individual health so we can keep people from more serious conditions." Dr. South-Paul believes that family physicians are uniquely positioned to make that change.
Dr. South-Paul has been given both the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Distinguished Service Medal and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Exemplary Teaching Award. In her teaching and administrative roles at both the University of Pittsburgh and the USUHS, and through her affiliations with the AAFP and the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, Dr. South-Paul has devoted her career to improving health care for the underserved. In the process, she has bettered health care for all Americans.