Boston hospitalist Dr. Vivek Murthy was confirmed Dec. 15 as the 19th U.S. Surgeon General, by a 51-43 vote of the U.S. Senate.
“Being ‘America’s doctor’ requires many of the same traits required of hospitalists: leadership, sharp clinical skills, and the ability to engage with patients,” Dr. Burke Kealey, president of the Society of Hospital Medicine, said in a statement. “Like hospitalists in thousands of hospitals across the country, I am confident Dr. Murthy will become an agent of change to improve delivery of care in our country.”
“As a practicing physician, Dr. Murthy brings extensive clinical expertise caring for patients and training hundreds of medical residents,” Dr. Robert L. Wergin, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said in a statement. “Dr. Murthy demonstrates a clear and thoughtful understanding of how important it is to transform our health care system from one focused on sick care to one based on wellness, good health practices, and early intervention.”
Dr. Murthy was nominated by President Obama in November 2013 and got fairly light treatment at a Senate confirmation hearing in February 2014. But Republican senators refused to entertain a confirmation vote for a variety of reasons, with Dr. Murthy’s advocacy on gun violence being cited most often. They also objected to his activist role in the passage of the Affordable Care Act while president of Doctors for America and his campaigning for Mr. Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
“The majority of his career has not been spent as a doctor treating patients, but as an activist,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) in a speech before the confirmation vote.
But Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called Dr. Murthy an outstanding physician and a public health expert, and noted that he had received the backing of some 100 health-related organizations earlier this year, including the American College of Physicians, the AAFP, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society, the American Hospital Association, the American Diabetes Association, and many others.
Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.) was the only Republican to vote to confirm Dr. Murthy, while three Democrats voted against him: Sen. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), and Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.). There were 6 abstentions.
The ACP reiterated its support for Dr. Murthy, citing a Feburary letter to two Senate committee chairmen in which college leaders called Dr. Murthy “a strong advocate for the provision of health insurance coverage to all Americans and ... a proven leader who can build coalitions among diverse individuals to ensure better health for our communities.”
The ACP statement also highlighted Dr. Murthy’s extensive public health experience, including serving on the U.S. Presidential Advisory Council on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health; cofounding VISIONS Worldwide in 1995, a nonprofit organization focused on HIV/AIDS education in India and the U.S.; and cofounding TrialNetworks, aimed at optimizing the quality and efficiency of clinical trials.
The nation has been without a confirmed surgeon general since Dr. Regina M. Benjamin retired in 2013.
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