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Clinton Choosing Tennessee Medical Dean for Surgeon General

February 1, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Dr. Henry Foster Jr., a medical school leader known for fighting teen-age pregnancy in Tennessee, is President Clinton’s choice for surgeon general, officials said Wednesday.

Foster, 61, former acting president of a predominantly black medical school, would replace Dr. Joycelyn Elders, an outspoken Arkansas pediatrician who was fired in December after saying school children should be taught about masturbation. The Senate must confirm his nomination.

White House aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the announcement was scheduled for Thursday. They said Foster would lead a national campaign to combat teen-age pregnancy.

Foster founded Meharry Medical College’s ``I Have A Future″ program, aimed at delaying sexual activity among teen-agers by building their self-esteem, developing job skills and teaching sexual responsibility, self-control and how to deal with conflicts in relationships.

The program, operating out of two Nashville housing projects, also offers comprehensive health services, emphasizing primary health care, physical exams, screening for sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy tests and distribution of contraceptives.

Foster, a Nashville obstetrician-gynecologist, began the program seven years ago with start-up money from the Carnegie Foundation. It has grown to serve about 150 youths each week.

Clinton, in his State of the Union address, called teen-age pregnancy the nation’s most serious social problem and urged parents and community leaders to join a national campaign ``to make a difference.″ Aides say the campaign will involve few new initiatives, but Clinton hopes to get more people interested and involved in the issue.

The nation’s surgeon generals usually receive substantial attention for their remarks on health issues _ from AIDS prevention to anti-smoking crusades. But the job actually is several rungs down in the Department of Health and Human Services hierarchy, and holds little direct authority over health programs and policy.

Like Elders and Clinton, Foster has Arkansas ties. He was born in Pine Bluff and earned his medical degree from the University of Arkansas.

Foster, who also has served as medical school dean for Meharry, guided the school through a merger involving Meharry’s teaching facility, Hubbard Hospital, with Metro General Hospital, Nashville’s public hospital. He has served on the advisory board of Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee in Nashville.

Lorraine Williams Greene, who succeeded Foster at ``I Have A Future,″ said the program does not offer abortion counseling but refers pregnant teens to other programs. ``We have our hands full ... trying to keep them from getting pregnant,″ she said.

Elders’ support of distributing contraceptives to students and her strong abortion-rights views drew criticism from conservatives. Friends and associates predicted Foster wouldn’t be as provocative as Elders.

``One of his strengths is he is sensitive to a balanced approach _ to the concerns of a number of groups in our society even though he’s a supporter of Planned Parenthood,″ said Shelby Tabeling, Planned Parenthood’s associate executive director in Nashville.

Called ``Hank″ by friends and associates, Foster is described as a consensus-builder with a mellow charm and a long resume.

``I don’t think I’ve ever seen Hank Foster out of control, angry, anything like that,″ said Dr. Fredia Wadley, Tennessee’s commissioner of health.

Foster took a sabbatical in July from the school to become a health policy fellow at the Association of Academic Health Centers in Washington.

He earned his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta and spent two years as a medical officer in the U.S. Air Force. He has worked at hospitals in Detroit, Malden, Mass., and Tuskegee, Ala.

He has been married for 35 years to a retired nurse, St. Clair. They have two grown children.

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