Health of a Nation

Co-authored by Ali Khan

On days like today, it's easy for us to yearn for more - for more just, more morally grounded, more impactful leadership to solve the problems in front of us.

As physicians, we are trained to look to those who came before us for answers - but even that garners more questions. What might David Satcher have done in the wake of medical professionals' implicit involvement in torture? How would Luther Terry have coordinated our national response to the Ebola crisis? What would C. Everett Koop do to address silent killers like poverty, obesity and food insecurity - those that cannot be cured with a needle or a scalpel?

Thankfully, the past makes one lesson clear: Koop - and his fellow surgeons general - would have led boldly, using science and medicine as his compass. Voices like Koop's were those of reason and diplomacy in the public health arena, never abandoning the real science of medicine and how to use its principles to guide the actual health of our nation. It was Dr. Koop who contributed to leading this nation in understanding the real efforts necessary to tame those misunderstood epidemics of tobacco-related disease and the AIDS epidemic. His impact was felt far beyond his term in office - for his work changed the lives of countless Americans.

But days like those, full of bold, just and evidence-driven action, seem far away on days like today.

Indeed, it has been over 512 days since we have had a Surgeon General. In that time, more than 841,644 Americans have died from heart disease, 673,315 Americans have died from smoking related causes, and 55,433 Americans have committed suicide. These issues do not have a government or an army. Yet, they claim lives nonetheless. We as a nation cannot continue to stay divided on the fundamental health of our nation - otherwise we will be taken over by a greater force that seeks no nuclear weapons and has no religion. The deaths we face are preventable - but to face them head on, we need a champion.

From the first moments we met Vivek Murthy, we knew he would be that champion. Despite his pedigree as a Harvard and Yale-trained physician and entrepreneur, he carried himself - in rooms full of health policy experts, master clinicians and Rhodes Scholars - with an elegant humility. From the outset, there was no question about his character or intentions - he was just Vivek, the guy who grabbed the first chairs to arrange in a circle and silently brought structure and context to the ideas we shared. As we watched him in those moments, pen marker in hand, it was clear that Vivek found no act too small for him. For Vivek, the joy was in leading others to catalysis - to the realization and de novo creation of impact and opportunity.

As Surgeon General, we are certain Vivek is the morally grounded, pragmatic and effectual leader we need to catalyze our nation's health. Drawing on his innate abilities to practice, reach and lead medicine at the highest levels, Vivek is the person to carry forward the office's tradition of bold, rigorous and scientifically sound action, leveraging his voice as our public health champion to lead collaborative investments in a healthier America.

On days like today, when this country faces incredibly tough public health challenges, it is Vivek who is the best voice of science and diplomacy. Rather than pulling out people from a river one at a time, he has the ability to lead us to look up steam to understand why the bridge broke. He will not abandon the real science - nor will he abandon the values and hopes of a healthier American population.

On days like today, we need a leader like Vivek in this crucial post.

Americans deserve a vote on a position that guides the arc of American well-being during a time where we need a strategy to couple technology and responsibility to safeguard the health of our future generations. It is time for our trusted leaders whom we elected - Senator Harry Reid chief among them - to stand in the sun and bring that vote to the Senate floor.

After all, on days like today, we could all do with some standing in the sun - and with Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General, we know that more sunlight lies before us.

Dr. Ali Ansary is a Surgery resident at Northwestern University Memorial Hospital and the founder of, an organization dedicated to young adult cancer advocacy. Dr. Ali Khan is an internist at Yale-New Haven Hospital and a clinician-innovator at Iora Health. He currently serves as the chair-elect of the American College of Physicians' National Council of Resident/Fellow Members.