Disparities champion, institutional adviser celebrated after decades of MUSC service

June 20, 2022
Dr. Sabra Slaughter addresses a campus audience during the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Week Program. Photos by Anne Thompson

Longtime adviser, trailblazer and diversity champion Sabra C. Slaughter, Ph.D., associate professor of research and former director of the Center for Health Disparities Research in the College of Medicine at MUSC, will retire on June 27.

A tireless leader in the areas of diversity and improving minority health throughout South Carolina, Slaughter has worked in multiple levels of public service, conducting health inequity research, enhancing cultural diversity and increasing minority roles in health care. He retires from MUSC with more than 37 years service and contributions to the institution.

In one such role, he served as executive director of the South Carolina Area Health Education Consortium (SC AHEC) from 1996 to 2000, where he improved access to primary care medicine for underserved minorities throughout the state and made strides in establishing cultural diversity training among family practice clinicians and practitioners at SC AHEC institutions.

Former provost and MUSC President Emeritus Raymond S. Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., remembers Slaughter for his leadership, collaborative spirit and commitment to change.

“As provost, I had the privilege of observing Dr. Slaughter work statewide with the Area Health Education Center program which he directed. It was a great challenge to manage this far-flung enterprise with so many different locations, disciplines, personalities and agendas. What impressed me the most was the diplomatic manner in which Dr. Slaughter interacted with all constituents. His management style was very collaborative, but he could also use a firm hand when necessary,” said Greenberg.

Slaughter, from left, with the late David Rivers and College of Medicine Dean Emeritus Dr. Layton McCurdy at a function.
Slaughter, from left, with the late David Rivers and College of Medicine Dean Emeritus Dr. Layton McCurdy at a function.

Slaughter began his career at MUSC in 1992 as interim executive assistant for Affirmative Action and Minority Affairs for then–President James B. Edwards. From 1988 to 2000, he held several positions, including director of Minority Programs.

A passionate mentor and educator, Slaughter has also been instrumental as the principal investigator for several funded research initiatives, which included minority health and health disparities grants as well as an anti–terrorism emergency assistance program grant to provide support and resources for victims of mass violence, following the Mother Emanuel Church massacre in June 2015.

In 2010, Slaughter co–led the Southeastern Virtual Institute for Health Equity and Wellness (SE VIEW), a Department of Defense–funded grant that supports community–based research and outreach programs, which helped to lay the foundation for MUSC’s telemedicine work addressing stroke and other chronic disease conditions. A key researcher on this project Marvella Ford, Ph.D.,SmartState Endowed Chair for Cancer Disparities Research and associate director of Population Sciences and Cancer Disparities at the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, led several SE VIEW–funded grant projects, and worked closely with Slaughter. 

“One of Dr. Slaughter’s greatest legacies he leaves behind is the way he models interactions with other people. He is one of the most gracious, kind, humble and thoughtful people I have ever met. I will miss working with him but will work hard to continue his legacy,” said Ford.

Slaughter’s leadership at MUSC also took him to higher levels of service, working as chief of staff to President Greenberg from 2000 to 2013 and as a senior adviser to current MUSC President David J. Cole, M.D., FACS.

“When I was appointed president, one of my first decisions was to ask Dr. Slaughter if he would be willing to leave AHEC to serve as my chief of staff,” Greenberg said. “Fortunately for me, he accepted the offer. For the next nearly 14 years, we were virtually inseparable. His advice and guidance was always highly principled and carefully considered. His kind and gentle manner often helped to calm anxieties of those around him — including, maybe especially, me. He represented the President's Office on many occasions and always did so with great dignity and a personal warmth that reflected well on the entire institution.”

Willette Burnham–Williams, Ph.D., interim chief equity officer at MUSC, has worked closely with Slaughter over many years, holding him in the highest esteem.

“Dr. Slaughter’s legacy and contributions are too many to name and they are all great,” said Burnham–Williams. “For me, the most untold legacy is the calm, thoughtful and expert leadership he brings to every endeavor he undertakes. His contribution is one of compassion and understanding in the midst of often difficult and controversial issues; it is one of intentionally and affirmation regarding the values and purpose he has made his life’s work, and it is one of intellect and distinguished service, particularly to the underserved  and historically bypassed of citizens he has served in South Carolina and beyond.”

A native of Beech Island, South Carolina, and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Slaughter earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California–Santa Cruz in 1973 and later, completed his master’s and doctorate in psychology from the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor in 1977 and 1985, respectively.

Slaughter returned to South Carolina in 1984 as project director for the ASSIST program, a faculty development effort launched by the Charleston Higher Education Consortium, prior to joining MUSC.

A recipient of numerous awards and accolades, Slaughter was recognized by the National Environmental Justice Proclamation and has received the James Clyburn State Award for Health Care Leadership, the Charleston Trident Urban League’s Leadership Award, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award, the S.C. Rural Health Association’s Excellence in Education Award and the Earl B. Higgins Diversity in Leadership Award, to name just a few. He has authored numerous publications and journals and also held memberships in multiple professional organizations, including the National Association of Health Service Executives, American Psychological Association, American Association of Medical Colleges Group on Minority Affairs and others. Slaughter’s exemplary work in the community has garnered him great respect and thanks, and he actively supports the Greater Charleston YWCA, Trident United Way, S.C. DHEC Health Disparities Workgroup and S.C. Medical Care Advisory Committee.

Dr. Sabra Slaughter and wife, Dr. Shannon Richards-Slaughter. Photo Provided 
Dr. Sabra Slaughter and wife, Dr. Shannon Richards-Slaughter. Photo Provided

And even with his many decades of professional achievements and prestigious accolades, Slaughter may best be remembered at MUSC for his sterling personal character, his deep and abiding dedication to the organization and the humanity and respect he showed to all.

“Sabra’s work to address health inequities and his engagement with historically underserved communities will provide an enduring legacy," Greenberg shared. “But for me, Sabra leaves a more personal legacy. He is a man of great virtue and integrity whom I continue to regard as one of my closest and dearest friends.”

Lisa Saladin, PT, Ph.D., executive vice president for Academic Affairs and provost, echoed that affinity and praise for the impact he had and legacy he leaves. “What Dr. Slaughter probably does not know is the significant impact he has had on emerging leaders at MUSC during his tenure here,” she said. “As a developing leader in the early 2000s, I can speak from personal experience that he was and continues to be a role model for many of us. He is a great listener, negotiator, strategist and collaborator who leads with authenticity, humility, respect and inclusiveness. I learned so much just from observing him in action and witnessing the way he motivated those around him to be better versions of themselves. There is a quote by the Dalai Lama that says, ‘Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far–reaching effects.’ Dr. Slaughter’s ‘ripples’ have affected many of us, and he leaves behind a great legacy, not only of accomplishments, but of impact and influence on the lives he has touched. Thank you, Dr. Slaughter.”

Thank you Sabra!
“I have the pleasure and honor to have worked with Dr. Slaughter for the past three decades with numerous projects and community interventions, including SE VIEW, AHEC high school blood pressure education and measurement, population blood pressure assessments, community outreach and engagement, among numerous other projects. While much of these activities focus on the reduction of health disparities, a passion of Sabra, it is important that the whole population has benefited from these efforts. Indeed, Sabra has made this a better world, and I feel privileged to have worked with him.”
Daniel T. Lackland, DrPH.,
Professor of Epidemiology
Department of Neurology

“It was in my good fortune to work with Sabra during my 11 years as Dean from 1990 to 2001. I’ve always gone to him when I needed advice regarding things that I thought he could help with and appreciated his enormous contributions to MUSC and to this community. I believe he has been actively participating in worthwhile things on a more national scale. Nevertheless, he has been a remarkable contributor to better health care in South Carolina. On a few occasions, I’ve had the good fortune of having wonderful private conversations with him. I’ve learned a lot from him and about him. He has won my enthusiastic admiration for the things he has done and for the man who he is. Best wishes to you Sabra for a happy continuing life.”
Layton McCurdy, M.D.
Dean Emeritus,
MUSC College of Medicine
Professor, Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences

“Dr. Slaughter, on a few occasions, reminded me that I welcomed him  on campus when we first met about 40 years ago, in front of the Colbert Education Center and Library. I was with a few other African American Medical students. You must remember, there were very few students of color at that time, and he was new to MUSC. Since that first encounter, we have both seen much progress in the number of underrepresented in medical students, residents, faculty, researchers and administrators here at MUSC. I believe he played a large role in that evolution. After my return in 1989 to work at Charleston Memorial and eventually MUSC, he has been a source of encouragement to me and other faculty members of color. Through his position in the President’s Office, he quietly encouraged me to pursue my medical history interest and to develop talks for the 1969 Hospital Strike and the Cannon Street Hospital Historical Marker Dedication programs.

I have seen him become a well-respected ambassador for MUSC, not only in the local African American community but for all the communities throughout the state. His efforts to increase access to quality health care and reduce health disparities in the Lowcountry and across the State of South Carolina are just some of the fruits of his labor. I deeply appreciate his example, friendship and guidance over the years and wish him all the best in this time to embrace family and future interests.”
James Tolley, M.D.
Assistant Professor Emeritus,
Department of Emergency Medicine

“In his work as chief of staff and later as director of the Center for Health Disparities Research, Dr. Slaughter has maintained a laser focus looking for opportunities to build MUSC relationships with community health care providers, such as community health centers, with the goal of reducing health disparities and improving health care for vulnerable people in South Carolina. I will personally miss his calm, gentle but incredibly effective leadership and his devotion to underserved communities of the state.”
William P. Moran, M.D.
McKnight Chair in Genetics
Department of Medicine – General Internal Medicine