Dr. Quentin Young, who served as national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) from 1992-2014, and who also served the organization’s past president, died on March 7 in Berkeley, California, where he had been under the watchful eyes and care of his daughters and other family members. He was 92.
In addition to his work with PNHP, Dr. Young co-founded and chaired for many years the Chicago-based Health and Medicine Policy Research Group.
Dr. Young was known for his sharp, clear-eyed analysis of social and economic problems, particularly in health care, his deep commitment to social justice and racial equality, his quick wit, his in-suppressible optimism, personal courage, and his ability to inspire those around him to join him in the battle for a more equitable and caring world.
Beginning in the late 1980s, he was perhaps the nation’s most eloquent and high-profile spokesperson for single-payer national health insurance, or improved Medicare for all, and was a vigorous champion of single-payer legislation, notably “The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act,” H.R. 676, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers Jr. and others.
Dr. Young graduated from Northwestern Medical School and did his residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. During the 1970s and early 1980s, he served as chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at Cook County, where he established the Department of Occupational Medicine. In 1983, Chicago Mayor Harold Washington appointed him president of the Chicago Board of Health, where he served with distinction. From 1952 to 2008, he was an internal medicine doctor in private practice in Chicago’s Hyde Park community, where he lived most of his life.
For many years Dr. Young hosted a popular program on WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station, where he discussed health and social issues and took calls from listeners.
In 1998, he had the distinction of serving as president of the American Public Health Association and in 1997 was inducted as a Master of the American College of Physicians. In 2009 he was appointed Health Advocate for the state of Illinois by Gov. Patrick Quinn.
In addition to his distinguished career as a physician, Dr. Young was a leader in public health policy and medical and social justice issues. He was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal physician during the latter’s stays in Chicago, and during the civil rights era he served as national chairman of the Medical Committee for Human Rights.
In 1999, Physicians for a National Health Program established the “Quentin D. Young Health Activist Award” to honor physicians and other health professionals who exemplify Dr. Young’s commitment to social justice. It is regarded as PNHP’s highest award.
In his 2013 autobiography, “Everybody In, Nobody Out: Memoirs of a Rebel Without a Pause,” Dr. Young wrote as follows:
“From my adolescent years to the present, I’ve never wavered in my belief in humanity’s ability – and our collective responsibility – to bring about a more just and equitable social order. I’ve always believed in humanity’s potential to create a more caring society.
“That viewpoint has infused my relations with family, friends, patients and medical colleagues. It’s been a lifelong, driving force to promote equality and the common good, and I believe it has served me well.
“I suppose being a physician has made it easier for me to work toward this goal. Easier, that is, than if I had chosen a different occupation. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to help others – in my daily rounds, in my clinic, as a hospital administrator, at demonstrations, in my work with health advocacy groups – and it all adds up to deeply rewarding career. Few people have such good fortune.
“But as you’ve no doubt noticed in the preceding pages, my views and actions have also propelled me into sharp conflict with institutions and person who would perpetuate injustice. That was true yesterday; it remains true today. My work is unfinished.”
Dr. Robert Zarr, president of Physicians for a National Health Program
Physicians for a National Health Program (www.pnhp.org) is an organization of 20,000 US physicians who advocate for single-payer national health insurance. It was founded in 1986.