Carruth J. Wagner, M.D., influenced the lives of countless people throughout his distinguished career. His dedication to public health improved the quality of life for generations of individuals. Dr. Wagner was born in Omaha on Sept. 4, 1916. He earned an undergraduate degree from then-University of Omaha in 1938 and a medical degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 1941. Dr. Wagner graduated from medical school with honors and was revered as the star of his class.
The medical career of Dr. Wagner took him from coast to coast, continent to continent and even to the White House. Educated as a surgeon and later certified as an orthopaedic surgeon, he practiced in a number of Public Health Service Hospitals after World War II. In 1965, Dr. Wagner was appointed chief
of the Bureau of Medical Services of the Public Health Service with the rank of Rear Admiral in the United States Navy.
Dr. Wagner served his country under four U.S. presidents as: assistant surgeon general; director of the Bureau of Health Services; chief, Bureau of Medical Services; chief, Division of Indian Health Services; and chief, Division of Health Mobilization. In 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Dr. Wagner
was responsible for health mobilization in the event of nuclear, biological or chemical warfare.
Dr. Wagner received numerous awards and honors. Among them were the Pfizer Award of Merit Citation, the American Academy of General Practice Meritorious Service Award and an honorary degree in science from UNMC in 1966. Dr. Wagner also was recognized as one of the top 100 Nebraskans of the 20th Century.
As chief of the division of Indian Health, Dr. Wagner strongly influenced national health policy on American Indian reservations. He recognized that continued improvement in the health of the American Indian and Alaskan Natives would result only from prevention, not just treatment, of disease. The programs he initiated dramatically improved infant survival and the overall health of the Indian nations.
In creating the Carruth J. Wagner Foundation, Dr. Wagner recognized that by supporting students who wished to become health care professionals, he ultimately was contributing to the state of world health. Today, the Wagner Foundation funds scholarships throughout the world. These include five annual scholarships for graduate students in the UNMC College of Public Health. Also a fund Dr. Wagner established in 1979 benefits medical and nursing students at UNMC. The Mabel May Wagner Memorial Scholarship fund honors the memory of his mother who worked tirelessly to finance Dr. Wagner’s education at the University of Omaha and then at UNMC. Dr. Wagner retired in 2001 at the age of 84. He passed away on Nov. 25, 2002, in Sacramento, California.