Commentary: Why it's good to have former senators in charge


By William H. Frist

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- Now is the time for a new beginning. And how it is approached may well turn on the often overlooked fact that both the president-elect and the vice president-elect are products of the U. S. Senate.

America shines at her best in times of challenge, and never in my adult life have we seen more challenge coming from more dimensions. I encourage Republicans to rally behind this president-elect and openly express support for the call for change throughout our legislative and executive branches.

I encourage Democrats not to repeat the missteps made by Republicans by excluding thoughtful debate. And I encourage the American people to stay involved with the intensity manifested by heightened participation in the democratic process.

My teaching on the Princeton campus last year revealed to me an explosion of energizing interest in "the system" and how to make it better from within -- very different from when I was there 38 years ago and the same activism was channeled toward tearing it down.

The wounds of the campaign are not as deep or angry as the media portray. For many, there is disappointment, and this must be consoled with time and discussion; for more, there is a sense of hope and quiet optimism that fresh ideas and new faces and commitment to collaboration can, if handled with care and grace, nurture a new prosperity.

Having served in the U.S. Senate, I am proud that that body, historically avoided as a source of presidential leadership, produced three of the four candidates and now the president and vice president.

The Senate is a strange animal. Unlike the House, it is weighted to give the minority party exceptional power. And that's why we have these super-majority (and, to the public, usually hard to fathom!) thresholds like cloture and the filibuster.

Both of our new leaders are creatures of this body, a body that our founding fathers deliberately elevated to one of deliberation and discussion and unlimited debate and enhanced minority power.

That unique Senate legislative experience of the president- and vice-president-elect -- with the understanding it brings both to lead on principle but govern with compromise and to respect uniquely the minority's participation -- stations them ideally for a time when the American people expect their government to work together to aggressively attack the problems that face us.

My former colleague John McCain returns to the Senate to participate with a style that fits the time. What made my life tough at times as leader -- his working on his own agenda, working almost obsessively across the aisle, putting principle before party and defending through passionate debate his conservative views -- is what can make him an effective force in shaping the change that these elections spoke so loudly to.

And to the president-elect, what an opportunity! Times are tough, but the people have rallied to your call. You have the followers; you have the believers; even your loudest critics recognize that you are endowed with leadership talents that are precious.

To move the nation forward, keep listening to the American people. Be straight with them, and don't over-promise. Fill the gaps where you lack experience with the brightest minds with the highest values. Share your message for Obama

And finally, though this may appear a bit self-serving, the doctor in me is shouting out not to forget an issue that has been driven to the background by the credit markets, job losses and threats overseas: health care.

Ever-rising health costs drive people to the ranks of uninsured. The 15 million hard-core uninsured need your immediate attention. There is nothing more intimate or more personal to any of us than the health of our loved ones. Don't let it slip to the back burner.

So, even in these tough and depressing times defined by an economic crisis that will -- yes, will -- have an end, I am pretty excited about the future. Let's all play our part as citizens of the greatest and freest country in the world.

The opinions expressed in the commentary are solely those of William Frist.


New Hope through Healing Hands website is Live!

Go to

Nov 10 2008

We are very excited to announce that the new website for Hope through Healing Hands is officially live!

Go to website today for updates on the latest news, interesting blogs, and informative articles on global health issues to deepen your interest and engagement in issues that affect "the bottom billion." We are working hard to create change through issues like clean water, maternal health/child survival, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and sustainable development. Join us today to learn more about what you can do to make a difference in the lives of our neighbors.

We look forward to hearing from you,

Jenny Eaton Dyer, Ph.D.



Education, Children's Health Linked

Tennessee Faces Infant Mortality Challenges

Oct 12 2008

October 12, 2008



Tennessee Voices

As chairman of a global drive on children's health, I devote much of my energy these days to improving the survival odds for millions of children in the developing world.

It pains me to tell you that we have a lot of work to do to improve those odds for our own children here at home. And, counterintuitive though it may seem, I believe the place to start is with our education system.

A good education can help lay the foundation for a healthy life. A new report from a national commission describes large disparities in infant mortality in Tennessee and across the nation. The report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America, of which I'm a member, finds that babies born to mothers with less education are less likely to survive their first year of life than those born to more-educated mothers.

This gap in infant mortality by mother's education is larger in Tennessee than in any other state. Infant mortality rates are highest among babies born to mothers who did not graduate from high school — 11.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. For children born to mothers with a college degree or more, the rate is 4.9, a more than twofold difference.

Interestingly, this disparity is not merely a matter of extremes. Infants in the middle experienced shortfalls in survival, as well. For example, those whose mothers have some post-high school education have a death rate of 8.0 per 1,000 live births. In other words, we have a sliding scale of infant mortality that corresponds with maternal education. More years of education for mothers translate into better rates of survival for their children.

This pattern holds true across the nation. The commission has established a national benchmark of 3.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, the lowest infant-mortality rate seen in any state among babies born to mothers with 16 or more years of schooling. That's a rate we know is achievable — and the rate we must strive to achieve for all families.

But how to get there? First, we need to acknowledge that there is much more to good health than health care. In many ways, where and how people live, learn, work and play have more impact on their health than medical care.

As a doctor, I know firsthand that this is true. Poor health rarely occurs in a vacuum. It is shaped by many factors, including education and family income and the resources and opportunities they provide, like access to nutritious foods and adequate housing.

Provide opportunities

Take education, for example. Every child should have the opportunity to an excellent education. Poor education can lead to limited job options and lower income, which, in turn, can limit a family's chances to live in healthy homes and neighborhoods. That's a big part of why we have such a wide disparity in infant mortality rates in this country. If we addressed education and other social issues as part and parcel of health, we wouldn't have so much illness that required so much medical care, including an enormous amount of emergency care.

We spend more per capita on health care than any other country in the world, and yet our health is not nearly what it should be. Nor will it be, until we start focusing more on health than we do on illness. We need to pay more attention to what it means to be born healthy, grow up healthy and maintain good health as adults.

The fact that none of us is as healthy as we should be shows that all of us — employers, educators, public officials, religious leaders and others — need to come together and identify community-based solutions for improving health.

These solutions should be practical, affordable and grounded in evidence. They're out there, but we need to determine which ones will work best for our communities and put them into action. Providing opportunity is what we in the U.S. do best.

We need to give all children the opportunity to see their first birthday and develop into healthy adults. We need to mobilize our energy and our people here in Tennessee, and we need to do it now, before we write off the health of the next generation.



Oct 09 2008






Cliff Bryant

Physicians for Peace

Dir. Communications & Marketing


[email protected]







Norfolk, Va. (10/9/2008) — Physicians for Peace, a Norfolk-based international non-profit organization focusing on medical education in the developing world, honored Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D. with the  Charles E. Horton Humanitarian Award for Global Health during the organization’s Celebrate the Nations 2008 Gala on October 4 in Virginia Beach, VA. Sen. Frist, M.D. served as the keynote speaker for the event.


 “To receive an award bearing Dr. Horton’s name is a tremendous honor,” Frist said.  “Medicine can serve as a currency for peace throughout the world, bringing hope to those in despair and forging new alliances in even the most remote corners of the globe.  Physicians for Peace is a shining example of that principle, and I’m grateful for their tremendous work.” 


Frist’s work in the field of global health aligns with the Physicians for Peace mission to foster medical diplomacy. As Frist recently wrote in the Yale Law and Policy Review, “Health is a unique vehicle that crosses boundaries in times of war and distress, and in times of suffering and turmoil. Working to improve the health of our fellow man sends a message that speaks to our common humanity and serves as a vehicle for peacemakers.”


Frist, who devoted 20 years to practicing medicine as a cardiothoracic transplant surgeon before entering public service, represented the state of Tennessee in the United States Senate from 1995 to 2007, and served as Senate Majority Leader during the final four years of his tenure. 


Since retiring from the Senate, Dr. Frist has worked with many charitable organizations, including Africare, Samaritan’s Purse, Save the Children and The ONE Campaign. At least once a year, he travels as a doctor to sub-Saharan Africa as part of World Medical Mission to do surgery and care for those stricken with disease. He is the Chair of the nonprofit Hope through Healing Hands, which promotes improved quality of life for communities around the world. The organization’s motto, “Using Medicine as a Currency for Peace,” echoes the mission of Physicians for Peace.


Speaking at the Physicians for Peace Gala, Sen. Frist expressed the core message of the evening. “Health and health care is the lifeblood of our future,” he noted.  “It touches every life—our grandparents, our parents, and our children.  It is intimate, and personal; it is built on trust; and it is fundamental to long-term economic growth – of a family or of a nation.”

The Charles E. Horton Humanitarian Award for Global Health is given in honor of the late Physicians for Peace founder, Charles E. Horton, MD.  Horton, an internationally recognized humanitarian, founded Physicians for Peace in 1989 and served as its leader until his death in late 2006. Through Horton’s leadership, the organization has touched the lives of tens of thousands of patients and medical professionals in more than 50 countries around the world. The award was given last year to Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, noted expert on global development and Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. 


“Sen. Frist’s commitment to addressing the developing world’s health crisis is the embodiment of Dr. Horton’s vision and passions,” noted Physicians for Peace President and CEO Brig. Gen. Ron Sconyers (USAF, Ret.). “His passion and compassion is an inspiration to the Physicians for Peace family, and indeed for humanitarians the world over.”  



Physicians for Peace is an international private voluntary organization that mobilizes healthcare educators to assist developing nations with unmet medical needs and scarce resources. Through effective, hands-on medical education and training, clinical care and donated medical supplies, Physicians for Peace creates long-term, sustainable, replicable, and evidence-based projects to help partner nations build medical capability and capacity to help themselves. Volunteers for the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization have conducted medical missions in more than 50 countries. More information is available at


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