Since World War II, DeBakey served as an advisor to most American presidents. In 1949, as a member of the Task Force on Medical Services of the Hoover Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch, he led the movement to establish the National Library of Medicine, which now contains more than 6.2 million books, journals, technical reports, manuscripts, microfilms, and pictorial and audiovisual materials. He was also chair of the President's Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke.

DeBakey did not limit his work as a medical statesman to the United States. He helped establish cardiovascular surgery programs and even health-care systems in a number of countries, including Germany, China, Italy, Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Spain, as well as nations in Central and South America.

He received approximately 50 honorary degrees from colleges and universities and more than 200 awards from educational institutions, civic organizations and governments worldwide. Among his major awards are the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the President of the United States bestows upon a civilian, the Lasker Award (the American equivalent of the Nobel Prize) and the Congressional Gold Medal.