Dennis, Gary C.

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Gary C. Dennis

Surgeon, educator

Gary Creed Dennis, surgeon and professor of neurological surgery, is a respected practitioner, educator, and noted healthcare advocate. He is a past president of the National Medical Association (NMA), a professional and scientific organization serving the interests of African American physicians. Dennis has an intense interest in health policy and legislative and regulatory affairs. He has spoken widely on healthcare disparities, access to health care, managed care, and diversity in medical education. As chief of the Division of Neurosurgery and associate professor of neurological surgery at the Howard University College of Medicine and Howard University Hospital, Dennis has clearly demonstrated his commitment to professional education and development.

Dennis, a native of the District of Columbia, is the son of Creed and Yvonne C. Bush Dennis. He was born December 27, 1950. He graduated with a B.A. from Boston University in 1972. In 1975 he was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. In 1976, he received the Merck Manual Award, the James T.W. Grandy Award 1st Prize, the Sandoz Award and the Clarence S. Green Sr. Award when he graduated from the Howard University School of Medicine.

Begins Teaching Medicine

Dennis interned at Baltimore's John Hopkins Hospital from 1976 to 1977 and was a neurosurgical resident at Baylor College of Medicine Affiliated Hospitals in Houston, from 1977 to1981. The Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, California, appointed him chief of neurosurgery in 1981. At the same time, he was clinical assistant professor of neurosurgery at the University of California at San Diego. In 1984, he was appointed chief of the Division of Neurosurgery and assistant professor at the Howard University College of Medicine, where he became associate professor in 1990. He became an attending physician at D.C. General Hospital in 1990.

In 1993, Dennis participated in an exchange program for the Medical Education for South African Blacks (MESAB), a nonprofit organization seeking to increase the number of black health professionals. Dennis lectured on his specialty at several medical hospitals and schools. In 2002, Dennis joined the MESAB board. He was a member of Summit '93, a coalition of health and service organizations seeking to increase the role of African Americans in the healthcare debate. The Rainbow Coalition sponsored a press conference at the NMA where the Health Insurance Association of America presented a new series of television advertisements about healthcare legislation. At the gathering, Dennis said that it was crucial that legislation should provide for physicians that serve the urban poor.

Dennis is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, and an elected member of the Society of Neurological Surgeons. He also is an appointee to the Federation Advisory Committee of the American Medical Accreditation Programs of the American Medical Association, as well as its Minority Affairs Consortium. In 1995, he was reappointed to the Practicing Physicians' Advisory Council of the Health Care Financing Agency.

Dennis, then chief, Division of Neurosurgery, and associate professor at the Howard University College of Medicine, was installed as the ninety-seventh president of the National Medical Association (NMA) at its annual Convention and Scientific Assembly in New Orleans in 1998. For his tenure, Dennis focused on creating effective healthcare leaders through the promotion of a National African American Leadership Colloquium and creating new alliances with the federal government and corporate America to better educate patients and physicians on healthcare issues dominating the black community.

Becomes Healthcare Advocate

Speaking before the United States House Appropriations Committee in 1999, Dennis presented key health priorities. He encouraged the congressional subcommittee to provide more funds for healthcare research, particularly minority health research, and recruit more health professionals of color. He encouraged the committee to increase funding for the Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services and raise the office's visibility inside and outside government. He requested that the government fund a national study on racism in medicine, particularly regarding issues related to medical education and healthcare delivery. He asked for greater attention to health care for the uninsured and community based public health initiatives. He would like medical school curriculum changes that expose medical students to racial and gender health issues. Dennis noted that given the extent to which racism is ingrained in the practice of medicine and in the education of health professionals, students must be understood as essential in the effort to eliminate health disparities.

Dennis has provided testimony before the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, as well as the Democratic Caucus Special Task Force on Medicare; the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means; the Joint Subcommittee on Labeling Information for Nonprescriptive Drugs, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, and the Food and Drug Administration, among others.

Dennis serves on a variety of professional boards and committees. He has served as the chair of the American Neurological Surgery Political Action Committee. He served two terms as a member of the Practicing Physicians Advisory Council of the Health Care Financing Administration, having first been appointed by Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan in 1992 and later reappointed by Secretary Donna Shalala in 1996. The doctor was listed among the best doctors in the southeast area by Washingtonian Magazine in 1995. In August of 1999, he joined the Board of the American Liver Foundation.


Born in Washington, D.C. on December 27
Graduates with a B.A. from Boston University
Graduates with M.D. from the Howard University School of Medicine
Begins as chief of neurosurgery, Howard University
Serves as treasurer of the National Medical Association (NMA)
Participates in an exchange program to South Africa
Serves as president of the Medical Society D.C.
Serves as president and president-elect of NMA
Joins board of the Medical Education for South African Blacks
Serves as president of the Howard University Medical Alumni Association

In a 1999 Emerge magazine interview, Dennis noted that racism not only affects the health care of African Americans but that it affects biomedical research, the practice of medicine, healthcare delivery, and medical education. He expressed concern for the declining enrollment of African Americans which he attributed to anti-affirmative action efforts, particularly in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and California. Dennis and the NMA reprimanded health management organizations (HMOs) and managed care corporations for their consistent exclusion of African American physicians' requests to participate in provider networks panels. He also noted that health plans are not including sufficient numbers of black physicians in proportion to the racial and ethnic make-up of the communities in which they serve. He noted in the Emerge interview that HMOs do not have a mandate to support postgraduate education. Funds that previously supported the training of postgraduates have gone to HMOs.

Other healthcare issues promoted by Dennis during his NMA presidency include encouraging reluctant African Americans to participate in clinical trials and to follow pharmaceutical developments; teaching African Americans how to navigate the healthcare system; the under treatment of severe pain in the black community; the promotion of the Patients Bill of Rights as congressional legislation; and the promotion of lactose-free dairy foods in the food guide pyramid and dietary guidelines for Americans from the United States Department of Agriculture. Dennis promoted the Merck Manual of Medical Information—Home Edition, the company's first consumer reference published in 1999.

Dennis has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and conducted various research. For example, he is a co-investigator on research projects studying the effects of cocaine on the ventral lateral medulla and the biological precursors of violence.

Power Couple Achieves

Dennis and his wife, Sharman Naomi Word Dennis, were the first husband and wife team to be named simultaneous presidents of the NMA and the Auxiliary National Medical Association (ANMA). The ANMA was formed in 1936 and consists of professional spouses, male and female, of the NMA. Each ANMA program has at least one NMA doctor on the project. The theme promoted by the auxiliary under Sharma Dennis was "We Are Who Our Ancestors Were: Looking Back as We Move Forward in Fulfilling Our Obligation to Improve the Status of Health Care through Commitment, Respect and Partnership." Sharma Dennis, an early intervention child development expert and former special education teacher in Washington D.C., worked with "Destination: Vaccination," an outreach project for child immunization. In 1999, the auxiliary met with the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss the "Gift of Giving" program that focuses on organ, tissue, bone marrow donation and enlisting organ donors in partnership with community organization.

The couple, along with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, chaired the 1999 Duke Ellington Ball to benefit the Washington Symphony Orchestra. They are parents of three children, twins Gary and Gina, and Gregory. Dennis is a recipient of the D.C. Youth Symphony Orchestra's Distinguished Service Award, the McDonald's Black History Leaders of Today and Tomorrow, and the highest honor bestowed by Howard University Hospital, the Legacy of Leadership Award. He serves on the Mayor's Health Services Reform Commission, the District of Columbia Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, and on the Board of Trustees of the Delmarva Foundation. He has also chaired the NMA's Council on Medical Legislation. He continues to make frequent media appearances.



"Dennis installed as new NMA president at Annual Convention." Jet 94 (7 September 1998): 8-9.

Stewart, Rhonda. "Dead on Arrival." Emerge 10 (September 1999): 34-39.


"Gary C. Dennis." The Society of Neurological Surgeons, Senior Society. (Accessed 10 June 2005).

"Gary C. Dennis, M.D., F.A.C.S. Docrates." (Accessed 10 June 2005).

                                 Kathleen E. Bethel

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Dennis, Gary C.

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