Former surgeon general: Don't eliminate position, take politics out

A former surgeon general proposed an alternative to a recent call to eliminate the position, MedPageToday reports.

The solution is not to do away with the position but to depoliticize the selection process, Richard Carmona, M.D., who served as surgeon general under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006, told MedPageToday. "It is an extremely important role and one that the public recognizes as important because of the credibility of the surgeon general," he said. "I would argue very strongly that more than ever we need the office of surgeon general today, as we do the U.S. Public Health Service."

Surgeons general, like chairpersons of the Federal Reserve or Supreme Court Justices, should rise above politics to provide the public with the best available information, Carmona said. He recommended the selection process shift back to merit-based promotions within the pool of career public service officers. This is still the process for the surgeons general of the Army, Navy and Air Force, Carmona said, but decades ago, both political parties began going outside the system for the U.S. surgeon general, prioritizing the likelihood that the surgeon general would support their respective policies. 

Moreover, Carmona said, the government should require the surgeon general to prepare an annual State of the Nation's Health, featuring a rundown of current challenges such as infectious or chronic diseases, as well as an assessment of global health.

Implementing such sweeping changes would be difficult, Carmona acknowledges, "but we shouldn't shy away from it because it may be difficult or it may be caught in a political discourse, especially by ill-informed people," according to the article.

To learn more:
- read Carmona's interview