Obama nominates 36-year-old Indian-American physician to be US surgeon general

0
262

November 15, 2013

WASHINGTON: US President Obama on Thursday nominated Indian-American physician Vivek Murthy, who is only 36, to be surgeon general of the United States.

US President: Barack Obama

November 15, 2013

WASHINGTON: US President Obama on Thursday nominated Indian-American physician Vivek Murthy, who is only 36, to be surgeon general of the United States.

US President: Barack Obama

The position, if confirmed by the Senate as required, will make Murthy the leading spokesperson on matters of public health in the US and the operational head of the 6500-strong US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, one of the seven uniformed services of the United States that includes army, navy, air force and marines.

The nomination, which if confirmed will make Murthy the country's 19th surgeon general for an office that was established in 1871, is both audacious and unprecedented. A graduate of Yale University, where he earned a medical degree and an MBA, he will easily be, by far, the youngest surgeon general in US history. He will also be the first surgeon general of Indian origin, recognizing the immense contribution of the Indian-American community to health care in the United States.

There are an estimated 80,000 physicians of Indian origin in the US, nearly ten per cent of the 850,000 doctors in the country. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, whose parents emigrated from Karnataka, is currently a Hospitalist Attending Physician and Instructor in Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital at Harvard Medical School, a position he has held since 2006.

The appointment thrilled the Indian-American community, particularly physicians who have long eyed the coveted post. CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta was thought to be a shoo-in for the post in 2009, but he withdrew his name from consideration citing personal and domestic reasons (his wife was expecting their third child and he did not want to move to Washington DC at that time). Even earlier, under Republican administrations, eminent Indian-American physicians with strong political connections such as Dr Zach Zacharian and Dr R Vijaynagar were discussed as possible surgeon general candidates.

"It is a great honor for the Indian-American community and one of the highest appointments for the Indian-Americans. The community appreciates the generosity of President Obama and his administration," Dr Sampath Shivangi, National President of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, said in a statement, describing Murthy as representing the "next generation" of Indian-Americans and pledging to actively support him in the confirmation process.

That confirmation may not come so easy given the toxic political atmosphere in Washington DC over the Obamacare debacle. In fact, Murthy is closely identified with the Affordable Healthcare Act as an early supporter and grass-roots advocate. He founded Doctors for America, which was originally called Doctors for Obama, and was appointed to the President's Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health which was created in 2011 as part of the Affordable Care Act health reform law. The organization’s 10,000 physicians and medical students helped to campaign for Obama's election, an effort that brought Murthy to the attention of the president. So the expectation is that Republicans will not give him an easy passage.

If however he gets confirmed then he will serve a four-year term at a critical moment in US healthcare history that is seeing a vigorous discourse on the so-called lifestyle diseases. The US surgeon general has many informal duties, such as educating the American public about health issues, advocating healthy lifestyle choices, and periodically issuing health warnings. The best-known example of this is the surgeon general's warning labels that was mandated for cigarettes when it was realized that smoking is hazardous to health.


Courtesy: TNN