Tuckson, Reed V.

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Reed V. Tuckson


Physician, health care executive

Reed V. Tuckson is a physician and advocate for healthcare reform in the United States. He served as public health commissioner in Washington, DC, as president of a Charles R. Drew medical school, in executive appointments within the American Medical Association and the March of Dimes, and in a high-ranking position with a managed-health care organization. The role of organized medicine, Tuckson told Deborah L. Shelton in American Medical News, is to serve as "an unequivocal advocate, a conscience for the nation, that says to the American people that the first order of business of a civilized and democratic society has to be whether or not the people of that society have the opportunity to live to their fullest capacity and to the greatest extent possible. Health is the most important determinant of the quality of life for any society."

A native of Washington, DC, Tuckson was born into an accomplished family during the early 1950s. His father was Dr. Coleman Tuckson, a dentist who was a key figure in the founding of Howard University's school of dentistry and helped launch the school's oral radiology department in the early 1960s. Tuckson's mother, Evelyn, was a visiting nurse during the golden age of the U.S. public health mission in the mid-twentieth century. One of her duties was to visit new mothers and their infants to ensure both were doing well, a service that was part of a generously funded campaign that had been launched earlier in the century to reduce infant mortality rates in the United States.

Tuckson earned an undergraduate degree from Howard University in 1973 and went on to graduate from Georgetown University's School of Medicine in 1978. His residency was spent at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he trained as a specialist in internal medicine. Part of this time he spent as an admitting doctor at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Philadelphia, where on a single day he signed in five new patients with end-stage heart disease. "I realized that so many causes of heart disease are preventable; it really bothered me," he told Rebecca Voelker in American Medical News. "I could have done an intellectually satisfying work-up and presented an advanced course of therapeutics. But what became most important was how to redesign our health system to prevent these diseases from occurring."

While still a resident physician, Tuckson launched a radio program aimed at African-American listeners and their health issues, and organized a support group for sickle-cell anemia sufferers. His interest in public health led to a Clinical Scholars fellowship from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and with that stipend he studied health care administration and policy at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business from 1981 to 1983. During some of this period he also worked as a medical director for a nursing home, and when he returned to Washington he took a job as administrator for the District of Columbia's Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration. In 1985 Tuckson became the deputy commissioner of public health in the city, and a year later was promoted to commissioner of public health. He spent the next four years attempting to improve the quality of life for District of Columbia residents on a budget that consistently shrank every year because of cutbacks in federal spending.

In 1990 Tuckson resigned as public health commissioner to take a post with the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation as senior vice president for programs. A year later, he moved to Los Angeles when he was appointed the new president of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, a private school known as a center for health-care professionals seeking to treat those in urban or medically underserved areas. As Tuckson explained to Voelker, "Drew University was created out of the ashes of the Watts riots of the 1960s by the community because they knew no access to health care. Our mission is to develop new knowledge to serve this community." Tuckson's increasing prominence brought him to the attention of President Bill Clinton, who placed First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the head of a special White House task force on health-care reform in the early 1990s. Tuckson was one of four dozen medical professionals whom President Clinton invited to serve on the review panel in the spring of 1993 before the administration presented its recommendations to Congress.

Tuckson left Drew University in 1997 to take a post with the American Medical Association, the leading organization for physicians in the United States. He served as group vice president for professional standards until 2000, when he accepted an offer from the United Health Group in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as senior vice president of consumer health and medical-care advancement. The managed-care company was the second-largest health insurer in the nation, but its member-physicians—342,000 under contract at the time—were deeply dissatisfied with United Health's policies. There were lawsuits that claimed the physicians were deliberately underpaid for patient services submitted, and others that charged the company with arbitrarily denying claims. Tuckson was brought in to resolve these issues.

In December of 2006 Tuckson was made executive vice president and chief of medical affairs at United Health. Despite his role as an executive with a healthcare group, he remains a staunch advocate for proposals to help uninsured Americans, including one put forth in 2007 that was endorsed by the American Medical Association. There were some flaws in the plan, Tuckson conceded to Robert Pear in the New York Times, but the point was to help the forty-seven million Americans without health insurance. "Day after day, there is debate and discussion." "Day after day, people die. We are sick and tired of the debate. We are focusing on what is achievable."

At a Glance …

Born c. 1951, in Washington, DC; son of Coleman (a dentist) and Evelyn (a nurse) Tuckson; married Margie Malone; four children. Education: Howard University, BS, 1973; Georgetown University School of Medicine, MD, 1978; studied heath care administration and policy at the Wharton School of Business, 1981-83.

Career: Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, intern and resident, c. 1978-81; Elmira Jeffries Nursing Home, Philadelphia, founding medical director, 1981-85; Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration, Washington, DC, administrator, 1983-85; deputy commissioner of public health, District of Columbia, 1985-86, and commissioner of public health, 1986-90; March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, senior vice president for programs, 1990-91; Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, president, 1991-97; American Medical Association, group vice president for professional standards, 1997-2000; United Health Group, senior vice president of consumer health and medical-care advancement, 2000-06, executive vice president and chief of medical affairs, 2006—.

Memberships: American Medical Association.

Addresses: Office—United Health Group, PO Box 1459, Minneapolis, MN 55440-1459.

Though Tuckson is well known in medical circles, his name surfaced in a slew of mainstream media reports in July of 2008 when he was booked as a guest on FoxNews Sunday. Seated next to Rev. Jesse Jackson in a studio awaiting their interview segments, Tuckson posed a question to Jackson about Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, and Jackson responded with disparaging remarks about the candidate, mistakenly thinking his microphone was turned off. The scurrilous comments later surfaced in the news media, and Jackson issued a public apology.

A father of four, Tuckson is married to Margie Malone, the sister of the late Vivian Malone Jones, who played a historic role in integrating the University of Alabama in 1963. He credited his family with instilling in him the belief that all people have a right to high-quality health care. "My mother is a very powerful symbol for me of what it means to be in this profession, what it means to be a health professional who cares for people," he told Shelton in the American Medical News. "I understand very deeply the commitment we must have to the health of the American people."



American Medical News, November 1, 1993, p. 18; October 27, 1997, p. 7.

Essence, November 1994, p. 162.

Modern Healthcare, September 25, 2000, p. 24; September 17, 2007, p. S15.

New York Times, January 19, 2007, p. A21.


"Reed Tuckson, M.D., Named One of Ebony's Most Influential Black Americans," Reuters.com, April 14, 2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS199906+14-Apr-2008+BW20080414 (accessed October 12, 2008).

—Carol Brennan