New Surgeon General Seeks Solutions to Socioeconomic Health Disparities

Posted January 16, 2015 by admin

The recent Ebola crisis highlights the need for a surgeon general who is unafraid of bold leadership. Vivek Murthy, whose appointment to the position was confirmed on December 15, is no stranger to leadership when he believes in a cause. Murthy founded Doctors for America, an advocacy group seeking to make high-quality health care available to everyone.

How Will Murthy’s Appointment Affect Women’s Health?

Murthy is a practicing internist who is particularly interested in prevention, especially as it applies to diseases that have a socioeconomic disparity. While at Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Murthy's concern for women's health lead him to increase the number of women and minorities who participate in biomedical research.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek MurthyCNN reports that Murthy is concerned about “obesity, smoking, and vaccinations.” In fact, he called obesity, “the defining public health challenge of our time.” Each of these issues is a women’s health issue, especially among the poor. The bottom line is that Murthy plans to raise awareness about disease prevention, a cause we can all believe in.

Murthy’s appointment was stalled for more than a year because he supports gun control. Gun control is not the only political issue that rankled Republicans, however. Murthy also supports the Affordable Care Act’s provisions that give women access to contraception, saying that his opinion is “informed by science.”

Does the Surgeon General Matter?

Regarding the position of the surgeon general, then-Senator Joe Biden once said, “You could eliminate the entire job and you’d have no impact on the people of America.” Biden was not correct; however, only a few surgeons general have spoken loudly enough to have memorable names. C. Everett Coop was a loud voice educating Americans about the dangers of smoking, and Joycelyn Elders took on AIDS and sexuality. Others in this position have worked quietly instead of advocating a cause.

If his penchant for speaking definitively on issues that concern him is an indication of how Murthy will approach the position, his name is likely to be remembered. We can expect initiatives to address childhood obesity, adult obesity, access to contraception, vaccinations, and smoking.

Despite opposition from the National Rifle Association and others, Murthy is widely supported by medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Cancer Society. The Ebola scare only highlighted the absence of a medical leader who is comfortable engaging with the public. Murthy may be the leader America needs to take on the chronic medical issues facing us today.