Otis R. Bowen was born near Rochester, Indiana, on February 26, 1918, to Vernie and Pearl Bowen. He attended high school in Francesville, Indiana, and later went on to receive his A.B. (1939) and M.D. (1942) from Indiana University. Bowen also holds 25 honorary degrees from schools such as Bethel College, Valparaiso University, and the University of Notre Dame.

In 1985, President Ronald W. Reagan nominated Bowen for the position of Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate with a vote of 93 to 2, making him the first medical doctor to serve in this position. He served as secretary until 1989. During this time he oversaw the development of the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988 and was deeply involved in AIDS education and research. Bowen also focused attention such issues as elderly care, family planning, fetal tissue research, cancer and arthritis education and research, and drug abuse treatment as well as medical liability and defensive medicine.

Following his term as Secretary, he retired to his home in Bremen, Indiana. In his retirement, he has spent his time traveling with his family and gardening. Throughout the 1990s, he also continued to serve as a member of several community and statewide organizations. His autobiography, entitled Doc: Memories from a Life in Public Service, was published in 2000.

More information on Dr. Otis Bown, and his collection, may be found the Archives and Special Collections guide to the Dr. Otis R. Bowen Papers.