As our senators begin to consider the candidacy of Dr. Vivek Murthy to become our nation's 19th surgeon general, they should consider the important role played by our nation's "top doc." The position carries three important duties: to lead the 6,500 men and women of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps; to chair the National Prevention Council; and to effectively communicate the best science around prevention and health to help improve the health of the American people.
Dr. Murthy is clearly qualified to succeed in all three roles.
We know that Dr. Murthy values prevention. As a member of the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health, he is already working to give sound advice that brings together every facet of government -- from education and defense to housing and transportation -- to ensure health is considered across the full spectrum of national programs and policies.
He has demonstrated that he is a mature leader of men and women. As co-founder and president of Doctors for America, he brought together 16,000 physicians and medical students to advocate for quality, affordable health care for all. He has also been a leader in HIV prevention and education as president of Visions Worldwide. And finally, we know that Dr. Murthy has the bright mind to take the latest science and turn it into better health outcomes. He is well trained and as an instructor at Harvard Medical School and a physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, he's successfully practiced at some of our nation's most prestigious health care institutions.
Dr. Murthy has accomplished much in his 37 years. Because of his young age, however, some might question his readiness for such an important position. However, our nation has been privileged to have had many such successful young health innovators over the years. For example, Dr. Vivien Thomas helped devise the procedure to correct the "blue baby syndrome"; Dr. Robert Jarvik invented one of the first artificial hearts; Dr. Joseph Murray performed the first human kidney transplant; and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi was one of the key discovers of HIV as the virus that causes AIDS.
These groundbreaking health advancements, which have saved millions of lives, were made possible by four leaders younger than Dr. Murthy. Competence, not age, should be the major criteria for this important position.
Our nation is plagued by not getting the value we deserve for our health care dollar and we are far too dependent on sick care over prevention and wellness. We as a nation can do better, and I would strongly argue that we should strive to be the healthiest nation. The next surgeon general should use the bully pulpit of the office to be an outspoken, science-driven, effective leader.
Dr. Vivek Murthy is up to the task and should be confirmed without delay.
Georges C. Benjamin, MD, is executive director of the American Public Health Association.