Yesterday, Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams retired, bringing to a close a long and distinguished career in federal service and a tremendous commitment to ending the HIV epidemic globally and in the United States. While she is concluding this chapter of her life, she leaves behind a legacy in her work to advance our nation’s public health and improve access to care for poor and underserved communities, including those at risk for and with HIV.
Trent-Adams began her career in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS) in 1992. Prior to joining the USPHS, she was a nurse officer in the U.S. Army and a research nurse at the University of Maryland. She also completed two internships in the U.S. Senate, and her clinical practice was in trauma, oncology, community health, and infectious disease.
During her tenure at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), she held numerous leadership positions, including Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health; Deputy Surgeon General; and Deputy Associate Administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration, HIV/AIDS Bureau. There she assisted in managing the $2.3 billion Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which funds medical care, essential support services, and medications for uninsured and underserved people living with HIV. “I have always admired the rear admiral for the way she leads with compassion and integrity. She is dedicated to improving the lives of the American people and her strategic vision for public health certainly embodies the U.S. Public Health Service mantra to serve on the land and the sea for humanity. She radiates excellence and consistently demonstrates an uncompromising ethical standard. She is passionate, determined, and inspiring—that is the core of who she is,” noted Kaye Hayes, MPA, Acting Director of OIDP.
In all her work, Trent-Adams demonstrated her dedication to building the public health community by nurturing and mentoring young professionals in the field. “Throughout her career, Sylvia mentored and supported a number of individuals working in public health,” noted Harold J. Phillips, Senior HIV Advisor and Chief Operating Officer of Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America in the HHS Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy. “She always reminded us to think of the experiences of those we serve. When we didn’t know or understand their perspective, she encouraged us to get out and talk with the community. Keeping the community at the center has been a key to her powerful success and accomplishments. We will miss her, but plan to continue using those lessons she taught so many of us.”
This focus on understanding public health as community health was a hallmark of everything she did in service to the American public. She emphasized that public health workers must find out what makes their communities tick, what voices they trust, what resources they have at their disposal, and whom they believe when told a particular health intervention will be successful.
No matter what new opportunities she embraces in her retirement, we know she will continue to focus on communities in need and be an advocate for people with HIV and others who experience health inequities. We send her off with sincere gratitude for her many contributions to our work to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S.