In 1982, President Reagan appointed Dr. C. Everett Koop to be the thirteenth Surgeon General of the United States. In November 2013, President Obama nominated Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy to become the nineteenth Surgeon General. The contrast between these two men speaks volumes about the politicization of this office and how this administration has cheapened it.
Before Dr. Koop became the US Surgeon General, he was already a giant in medicine. He was one of the founders of the field of pediatric surgery, serving as the surgeon-in-chief at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for 35 years. He established the nation’s first neonatal intensive care unit at CHOP and founded the nation’s first training program in pediatric surgery, producing a generation of leaders in this field.
At the time that Dr. Koop decided to devote his career to the surgical care of children, nothing like this existed, so he needed to invent things extemporaneously. He commented in his memoir: “some of the surgical problems that landed on the operating table at Children’s had not even been named. Many of the operations that I had performed had never been done before.” His brilliance continues to be appreciated today as many of these operations which he pioneered, continue to be the standard of care for complicated problems in children. He performed groundbreaking procedures involving the separation of conjoined twins. He also developed procedures to address previously lethal problems in children such as mal-development of the esophagus (esophageal atresia) and ventriculo-peritoneal shunts for hydrocephalus (water on the brain).
Dr. Koop founded the Journal of Pediatric Surgery and was its first editor. He published hundreds of peer reviewed articles and wrote dozens of book chapters and text books on pediatric surgery. He was awarded every major honor in the field of surgery, and served in every leadership position in pediatric surgery.
Dr. Koop was certainly a larger than life figure and he is a hard act to follow. One could only hope that the latest appointee, Dr. Murthy, brings with him a degree of experience, expertise and compassion close to that of Dr. Koop. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
At just 37 years of age, Dr. Murthy is an infant in the world of medical experience. His exposure to clinical medicine consists of a 3 year residency (the minimum amount of training for any of the fields recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties), followed by 7 years as a hospitalist (a doctor who provides care to only hospitalized patients) in Boston.
Dr. Murthy’s accomplishments consist of forming of a non-profit organization as a college freshman and also developing a company shortly after his residency, designed to speed up clinical pharmaceutical trials. His “signature” achievement, however, was as a progressive, medical organizer- creating the group, Doctors for Obama, now known as Doctors for America. President Obama rewarded him with an appointment in 2011 to the US Presidential Advisory Council on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Murthy has taken positions advocating a single payer healthcare system and most recently has been outspoken in his position against gun ownership, calling guns the biggest public health concern facing America. For these positions and his support of the President, he has been rewarded with this soapbox and bully pulpit on healthcare matters.
Dr. Murthy is unquestionably a very bright individual, but he has done nothing to distinguish himself as a leader in healthcare. At a time when people are distrustful of the federal government and their overreach into healthcare, it would have been politically correct to appoint a true leader to this position in an attempt to allay fears. Instead, another obvious political operative is being forced upon Americans. As if the public hasn’t had enough, this is like rubbing salt in the fresh and open wound known as healthcare reform.
This appointment is an affront to the thousands of doctors who have decades of experience taking care of patients, in managing medical practices, running hospitals, and formulating healthcare policies. They view this appointment as further evidence that President Obama is not serious about healthcare, but instead views it as an instrument of power, to wield over the helpless populace. What could we expect though from someone who has shamelessly vilified doctors as greedy and uncaring?
It is fortunate that Dr. Koop did not live to see what is going on today. If he was still with us, he would have reminded the President about the promise that he made- “if you like your doctor, then you can keep your doctor” In the case of Dr Murthy, Dr. Koop would have never considered insulting the medical profession, the Senate or the public by placing such a poorly qualified junior physician in nomination for the position as the nation’s top medical officer. Thousands of doctors hope that the Senate gets this message. President Obama can keep this doctor to himself.
Hal Scherz is the President & Founder of Docs4PatientCare. He is a full time pediatric urologist at Children’s Hospital of Atlanta and a clinical associate professor of urology at Emory University.