Vivek Murthy, MD, Confirmed as Surgeon General


December 15, 2014

The Senate today confirmed Vivek Murthy, MD, as the nation's next Surgeon General as Democrats took advantage of their soon-to-end majority status to overcome GOP opposition to President Barack Obama's nominee.

The vote was 51 to 43.

Senate Republicans initially objected to Dr Murthy's nomination, submitted more than a year ago, because he struck them as a political partisan with not enough clinical or public health experience. Then the National Rifle Association (NRA) branded him as a supporter of "radical gun control measures" based on tweets of his that declared gun violence a public health issue.

In his confirmation hearing in February, Dr Murthy seemed to backpedal on his position. He said that he would not use the office as a "bully pulpit" for gun control, but rather, focus on obesity prevention.

Those statements did little to assuage Democrats' fears that Dr Murthy might lose a confirmation vote before the November general election because some Senate Democrats on the ballot would oppose him lest they run afoul of the politically powerful NRA. So Dr Murthy's nomination was put on ice until the lame-duck Congress, when the stakes would be lower.

Supported by a Broad Coalition of Healthcare Groups

Surgeon General will be one of many hats that Dr Murthy, 37, has worn in his brief medical career. He is a hospitalist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, the cofounder of a nonprofit group promoting HIV/AIDS education, and the cofounder and chair of a company making software for clinical trials.

Another part of his resume sparked nearly as much controversy in the nomination process as his views on gun violence. Dr Murthy was cochair of Doctors for Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign and cofounder of a successor group called Doctors for America, which supported passage of the Affordable Care Act. Those roles tainted him in the eyes of Senate Republicans.

"This is just another example of President Obama giving someone an important job based solely on their support of the president's political career," Sen. John Barrasso, MD, (R-WY) said on the Senate floor today in opposition to Dr Murthy's nomination.

However, a broad coalition of healthcare-related groups that include the American College of Physicians, the American Hospital Association, and the New England Journal of Medicine had urged the Senate to confirm Dr Murthy. Besides praising his abilities and credentials, they said the nation sorely needed a duly confirmed, activist Surgeon General to help it weather the Ebola crisis. Dr Murthy will succeed Acting Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, MD, who stepped in for Regina Benjamin, MD, after she left that post in July 2013.

Democrats seized their last chance to confirm Dr Murthy in the current lame-duck session of Congress following their loss of Senate control in the November 4 election. Republicans picked up eight seats that day as well as a ninth on December 6 in a run-off election in Louisiana, giving them a 54-vote majority when the Senate reconvenes in January. Democrats will hold 44 seats, and independents, two.

One group that was particularly happy about Murthy's confirmation was the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHS), which represents hospitalists such as the new Surgeon General.

"On behalf of America's 44,000 hospitalists, I congratulate Dr Murthy, a fellow hospitalist and one of our SHM members, on his historic appointment to U.S. surgeon general," said SHM President Burke Kealey, MD, in a news release. "Being America's Doctor requires many of the same traits required of hospitalists: leadership, sharp clinical skills and the ability to engage with patients. And, 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."


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