Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a practicing neurosurgeon at Emory in Atlanta, and CNN medical correspondant has been named as a candidate for Surgeon General. This is an interesting choice because as far as I know, Dr. Gupta has no background in public health, fighting epidemics, leading armies, or playing golf.
I do know that the Surgeon General is an anachronism from a simpler time, and has had different roles. The signature Surgeon General of our time was Dr. C. Everett Koop, pediatric surgeon of note, who did stand up to the Reagan Administration and spoke truth about condoms. Otherwise, he was a Creationist, and didn’t meddle much in science or medicine. There is no regular current Surgeon General because the last one mouthed off about science.
I think I realize what President-elect Obama wants: a medical translator. Someone to interpret the medicalese, the governmentese, and the politicalese -basically what Dr. Gupta does so well already. In this regard, his choices included all the other talking head docs including Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil. Mehmet Oz, by the way, is one of the most gifted surgeons I have ever watched. When I was on faculty at Columbia, I met with him, and he told me that I needed to find a better barber and handed me Frederic Fekkai’s card (!) -talk about 500 dollar haircuts.
I think that Dr. Sanjay Gupta is an excellent choice. It adds a competent voice to translate the heavily technical and intricate.
I would also propose President-elect Obama create another office -that of Surgeon Admiral. This person would get to wear a navy uniform (just like the Surgeon General -why?) but with a large tricorn admirals hat from the 18th century. He would get plenty of office space, use of a jet (F-18 is fine), and the charge of creating America’s greatest hospital. I would start with an espresso bar in the surgeon’s lounge, and a return to classic white uniforms for the doctors and nurses.
A certain surgeon could be persuaded to sacrifice his time for this noble cause.