Otis Webb Brawley (1959- )

Otis W. Brawley
Courtesy Kaiser Health News, Fair use image
Image Courtesy of Kaiser Health News

Otis Brawley is an American physician, oncologist, researcher, author, and health care reform advocate, who is currently the Chief Medical and Scientific Officer and Executive Vice President of the American Cancer Society (the largest non-profit health-oriented charity in the U.S.). He is the first African American to hold the position.

Born July 4, 1959, the only son of three children, his mother, a hospital cashier, and father, a hospital janitor, met and settled on Philadelphia Street in Detroit, in a part of town colloquially referred to as “Black Bottom.” Young Brawley lived in constant fear of violence; it was not uncommon for corpses to be found near his neighborhood.  He also saw firsthand the impact of the lack of health care on those in his community and their distrust of doctors.

Brawley attended Catholic schools in Detroit including the University of Detroit Jesuit High School where his tuition was paid by an unknown Catholic benefactor. While he attended high school he volunteered at the lab in the Detroit area Veterans Administration Hospital, and was inspired by his work with the scientists and physicians there.

Upon graduation, Brawley entered the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago, and received his M.D. in 1985. He then interned at the University Hospital of Cleveland, Case-Western Reserve University, completing his residency there in 1988 and became board certified as a specialist in Internal Medicine. Brawley completed a fellowship at the National Cancer Institute in 1990, and became board certified in Medical Oncology in 1993.

Brawley moved to Atlanta in 2001 and began practicing at the Emory Clinic. He served as deputy director for cancer control at the Winship Cancer Institute there. He also began working at the National Cancer Institute in Atlanta, serving as assistant director.

From 2001 to 2007 Brawley was Medical Director of the Georgia Cancer Center for Excellence at the Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. In 2006 he received the U.S. Public Health Service Crisis Response Service Award and the U.S. Public Health Service Distinguished Service Commendation for his work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In 2008 he became a medical consultant for Cable News Network (CNN). As a co-chair for the U.S. Surgeon General’s Task Force on Cancer Health Disparities, he led an examination of racial and economic disparities in health care access and quality. He also advised the approval of new medications for the FDA as a member of the Oncology Drug Advisory Committee.

Brawley as a researcher has published over one hundred scientific articles since 1993. His research has questioned the effectiveness of various prostate and breast cancer screenings and treatments. He has also studied the various factors causing health care disparity and has served in editorial roles for various medical journals.

As of 2012 he continues his work as the Chief Medical and Scientific Officer and Executive Vice President of the American Cancer Society. He advises the CDC in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection and Control Advisory Committee, and serves as professor of hematology, medical oncology, medicine and epidemiology at Emory University.

Brawley resides in Atlanta with his wife Yolanda. He recently published a book criticizing American health care, How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks about Being Sick in America.