Recent cases of Ebola virus infection in the U.S. have brought attention to the fact that we currently do not have a formally appointed surgeon general, though Rear Adm. Boris Lushniak has been serving in an acting role. The surgeon general’s role is important – especially during times of heightened concern about the public’s health.
As described by the Department of Health and Human Services, the surgeon general, sometimes referred to as the nation’s doctor, is charged with providing Americans with “the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and reduce their risk of illness and injury.”
The good news is that President Obama has nominated an outstanding candidate for surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Senate confirmation hearings for Murthy’s nomination will begin soon. He has been widely endorsed by prestigious organizations, including the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. He is extremely well-qualified and would serve our nation well as surgeon general.
Murthy is a warm, reassuring and skillful physician with extensive experience caring for hospitalized patients and training medical students and residents as a faculty member at Harvard Medical School. He is a thoughtful listener and a superb communicator, with an impressive record of energetic and effective advocacy beginning early in his career. Even during his undergraduate years, he co-founded a volunteer organization that engaged 45,000 young people in providing HIV/AIDS education in the U.S. and internationally.
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An accomplished advocate for using technology to promote health, Murthy co-founded a software company that developed tools to help researchers bring effective medical treatments to patients faster and at lower cost. In 2008 he co-founded a nonpartisan grassroots group of physicians and medical students who felt that it was part of their professional responsibility to work for high quality, affordable health care for all Americans. His passion, integrity and ability to build coalitions to achieve a shared vision were critical to the growth of Doctors of America, now an organization of more than 16,000 members representing every medical specialty.
As important as it is to guide the public’s understanding of compelling threats such as Ebola, an effective surgeon general will engage our nation on many matters of ongoing importance. Previous surgeons general have provided valuable guidance regarding the health consequences of smoking, how to avoid HIV/AIDS infection and the need for good nutrition and regular exercise.
Murthy has made it clear that his priorities will include addressing our epidemic of obesity, promoting better mental health and perhaps most important building a broad culture of prevention and wellness. Ambitious goals, yes, but we believe that this good doctor has the needed skills and insight to make a real difference as surgeon general, for the benefit of all of us. We sincerely hope he has the opportunity.
Howard Eisenson, M.D., of Durham and Gary Greenberg, M.D., of Durham are members of Doctors for America. Cedric M. Bright, M.D. of Durham, also a Doctors for America member and the 112th president of the National Medical Association, also contributed.