Dr. Douglas Scutchfield, an international leader in public health and a mentor to many in Kentucky, died Monday night

F. Douglas Scutchfield, M.D.

Dr. F. Douglas Scutchfield, a public-health leader for the world, the nation and his native Kentucky, died Monday night after being hospitalized for several weeks with pneumonia.

Scutchfield recently served as chair of the accreditation committee of the Public Health Accreditation Board, which accredits local and state health departments, and spurred Kentucky to be a leader in getting its departments accredited. It was one of his latest accomplishments in a life devoted to public health.

A native of Wheelwright in Floyd County and a graduate of Hazard High School and Eastern Kentucky University, Scutchfield earned his M.D. at the University of Kentucky, where he held an endowed professorship in the College of Public Health, of which he was founding director when it was the School of Public Health. He was also a professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration, founding director of the Center for Health Services Research and Management, and associate dean of the College of Medicine, where he chaired the Department of Preventive and Environmental Medicine. He founded the Graduate School of Public Health at San Diego State University, was a founder of the College of Community Health Science at the University of Alabama and also taught at the University of California-Irvine.

Scutchfield was an editor of many academic health journals, founding co-editor of the Journal of Appalachian Health and an editor of a recently published book, Appalachian Health: Culture, Challenges, and Capacity.

Julia Costich, who succeeded Scutchfield as the public-health college’s Peter P. Bosomworth Professor of Health Services Research, told Kentucky Health News, “Public health is about doing things for populations, but Scutch’s gift was relating to individuals—students, colleagues, prominent leaders—as individuals. His generous nature was tempered by a deep need for reciprocation. I think this was part of what drew him to the work of Thomas Merton, who articulated the need for human contact to bridge the spiritual gulf.”

Scutchfield and Paul Evans Holbrook Jr. wrote The Letters of Thomas Merton and Victor and Carolyn Hammer: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (the Jesuit motto, “For the greater glory of God”), published by the University Press of Kentucky in 2015. The book helped Scutchfield earn the 2017 UK Libraries Medallion for Intellectual Achievement in 2017, which he called “a coda to my academic career.” In accepting it, he said his interest in Merton and the humanities reflected a part of his philosophy of being a physician: “I am a firm believer in the importance of humanity to those of us in the health professions. We do not treat a disease; we treat a person, thus we must know the humanness of the individual in front of us, as well as the diagnosis and treatment of their disease.”

Two years later, he won the top award from the American Public Health Association, the Sedgwick Memorial Medal for Distinguished Service in Public Health. He was a charter diplomat of the American Board of Family Practice, a fellow of the American College of Preventive Medicine, which he served as a regent and president. He was secretary-treasurer of the Association of Schools of Public Health and a board member of the Public Health Foundation, which presented him with the Theodore R. Ervin Award. He In 2004, he received the Balderson Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Public Health Leadership Network.

Scutchfield was a member of the American Medical Association House of Delegates and served as chair of the AMA Section Council of Preventive Medicine on several occasions. He was vice chair of the AMA’s Council on Medical Education, and represented the AMA as a member of the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education, the Liaison Committee on Specialty Boards, the American Board of Medical Specialties and the Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation. He received AMA’s Dr. William Beaumont Award as its outstanding young physician in 1985 and its Distinguished Service Award, the highest recognition of a physician, in 2003.

Scutchfield had an international reputation and was a consultant to government and non-governmental organizations in Panama, China, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Germany, as well as the U.S. But he never forgot Wheelwright, which was one of Kentucky’s biggest coal towns when he was growing up, then-Libraries Dean Terry Birdwhistell said in 2017: “As a scholar, teacher, mentor, administrator and public health advocate, he has never forgotten his Floyd County roots even as he became internationally recognized and honored.”

During the pandemic, Scutchfield worried about the damage done to his profession, said Al Cross, director of UK’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and publisher of Kentucky Health News: “At our last lunch, he and I talked about writing a ‘where we go from here’ essay as a bookend to the one we published on March 1, 2020: Is our political system properly serving our public-health system? The answer was no, and it got worse, and it hasn’t gotten any better. May Doug Scutchfield’s life inspire us to stand up to officials of all stripes who damage the discipline of public health and thus the health of the public.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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