Congratulations to Dr. Vivek Murthy, our 19th Surgeon General

Just a nice moment.

Congratulations to Dr. Vivek Murthy, our nation’s nineteenth Surgeon General. Here’s a nice article in Vox about what he hopes to do in the position. Here’s another on why I am especially gratified by the outcomes of the successful nomination fight.

Also congrats to Dr. Alice Chen, with whom I worked closely at Doctors for America, which I advise.  I remember especially fondly sharing a burger with Alice and my brother-in-law Vincent while Vinnie and I were on a Hollywood vacation. Alice is a whirling dervish of energy. And she does it all with a smile.

PS. Congratulations to both Dr. Murthy and Dr. Chen on their engagement.

PPS: Dr. Murthy’s grandmother was on-hand to see Vice President Biden officiate at the swearing-in-ceremony. What kind of nachas is that?


Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

4 thoughts on “Congratulations to Dr. Vivek Murthy, our 19th Surgeon General”

  1. Seems another good appointment. Two side remarks.

    – This is one of the many posts for which Senate confirmation is quite unnecessary. The SG has next to no operational responsibilities – the federal health care system is run by a Cabinet officer, the Secretary of HHS.

    – The Surgeon-General is a commissioned officer; the snazzy uniform is that of a vice-admiral. A curious anomaly, though if it helps Dr. Murthy to get a hearing, I'm for keeping it. The uniform also serves as a reminder that dealing with public health emergencies is a bedrock function of the modern state. It may require forceful and rapid executive action, as we saw with Ebola: quarantines or forcible evacuations.

    The silence of the US Constitution on public health contrasts with modern constitutions like those of Germany (Article 74.19) or the Netherlands (Article 22). It's a nice problem for American originalists. Since the text didn't mention public health, Article 10 the Tenth Amendment on a narrow reading reserves the area to the states, which is a suicide pact in epidemics. There was no germ theory of disease in 1787, and the opinions of Madison, Hamilton and Jefferson on the subject, if they had any, would be worthless. If you insist on running a big modern country on the basis of a clever and in parts smelly eighteenth-century political compromise, you really do need to interpret it so as to solve the problems you have today, using the best understanding of the world you also have today.

    1. No disrespect to Dr. Murthy, but even comparing the role to the Cabinet Secretary is not appropriate. The SG reports to an assistant secretary, and though sometimes called the "nation's doctor" is outranked by a large number of doctors in the same building. It should not be a Senate confirmed position…it just doesn't matter that much.

      1. "it just doesn't matter that much"? Three words*:

        1986. Dr. C. Everett Koop. AIDS.

        *okay, word-like objects

        1. I am afraid that doesn't make the point. When one of the many people who have held a job over a period of decades is significant, the correct inference is that that person, not the job, is the important thing — CEK was a powerhouse his whole life, including long after he was SG.

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