Dr. Vivek Murthy, the New Surgeon General

Murthy

Guess what happened during the busy and distracting month of December? After more than a year of foot-dragging, the United States Senate confirmed a new Surgeon General. Dr. Vivek Murthy had made the mistake of tweeting that guns are a health care issue, and many members of Congress held it against him. Many Americans (who voted for those politicians) believe that when citizens show up in the emergency room with holes in them, how they got there is irrelevant, and the medical profession should just mind its own business. Doctors should, in other words, shut up and sew up the holes.

Dr. Murthy went to two Ivy League universities, and believes that doctors should have some say in designing and administering the health care system that couldn’t exist without them. An internal medicine specialist, he is all about prevention. During the Senate hearings that led to his confirmation, he promised to focus on reducing tobacco use, increasing vaccination rates, and fighting childhood obesity. Although he has accomplished many things, Dr. Murthy has not yet done much with childhood obesity, so it will be an exciting adventure.

The New York Times noted that the new Surgeon General was a founder of the 16,000-member Doctors for America, which was also held against him during his hearings. The organization used to be called Doctors for Obama, and it had a lot to do with establishing the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which some people don’t like. So there were two strikes against him. But, Sabrina Tavernise says:

Dr. Jerry Avorn, a colleague of Dr. Murthy’s at Brigham and Women’s, pointed out that past surgeons general took strong and unpopular positions — on smoking in 1964 and on AIDS in the 1980s — and were remembered as courageous fighters for what was right for public health… [Dr. Avorn said,] “He understands that health and illness are intimately connected to social issues and even political decisions.”

For MedPageToday, Molly Walker rounded up expert opinions on the matter. Dr. Robert L. Wergin, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, sees Murthy’s strengths as his ability to connect with a diverse community and his facility with new communication systems (though it was a Twitter posting that caused so much trouble, and the account was shut down right around the time when he was originally nominated for the Surgeon General position). Dr. Wergin said:

It is the Surgeon General who helps nonmedical people understand what they need to do to stop smoking, or how important it is for all of us to maintain a healthy weight, or what we need to do to avoid infectious diseases.

Some observers are less sanguine about the new Surgeon General’s prospects. Alan P. Sager, Ph.D., of the Boston University School of Public Health, told the reporter “prevention always fails inevitably.” In a different venue, family physician Mike Sevilla sounds close to despair:

What impact can this surgeon general, or any surgeon general, have on policy making, given the Washington political environment? How much impact can this surgeon general, or any surgeon general have on America’s health? What can the surgeon general really do?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “New surgeon general approved despite remarks on guns, contraception,” LATimes.com, 12/15/14
Source: “Vivek Murthy, the New Surgeon General, Isn’t Afraid to Take a Stand,” NYTimes,com, 12/16/14
Source: “Friday Feedback: Do We Need a Surgeon General?,”
MedPageToday.com, 12/19/14
Source: “Vivek Murthy is now surgeon general, but what can he really do?,” KevinMD.com, 12/31/14
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