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Washington: President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated Indian–American physician Vivek Murthy, who is only 36, to be surgeon general of the US.

The position, if confirmed by the Senate, will make Murthy the leading spokesperson on matters of public health in the US and the operational head of the 6,500–strong US public health service commissioned corps, one of the seven uniformed services of the US that includes the army, navy, air force and marines.

It will also make Murthy the country’s 19th surgeongeneral for an office that was established in 1871. A graduate of Yale University, where Vivek earned a medical degree and an MBA, he will be the youngest surgeon–general in US history. He will also be the first surgeon general of Indian origin, recognizing the immense contribution of the Indian–American community to health care in the US.

There are an estimated 80,000 physicians of Indian origin in the US, nearly 10% of the 850,000 doctors in the country. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, whose parents emigrated from Karnataka, is currently a hospitalist attending physician and instructor in medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School, a position he held since 2006.

PRESIDENT’S PICK: If confirmed, Vivek Murthy will be the first US surgeon general of Indian origin PRESIDENT’S PICK: If confirmed, Vivek Murthy will be the first US surgeon general of Indian origin

The appointment thrilled the Indian–American community, particularly physicians who have long eyed the coveted post. CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta was thought to be a shoo–in for the post in 2009, but he withdrew his name from consideration citing personal and domestic reasons (his wife was expecting their third child and he did not want to move to Washington DC at that time).

Even earlier, under Republican administrations, eminent Indian–American physicians with strong political connections such as Dr Zach Zacharian and Dr R Vijaynagar were discussed as possible candidates.

"It is a great honour for the Indian–American community and one of the highest appointments for the Indian–Americans. The community appreciates the generosity of President Obama and his administration,” Dr Sampath Shivangi, national president of the Indian–American Forum for political education said in a statement, describing Murthy as representing the "next generation” of Indian–Americans and pledging to actively support him in the confirmation process.

That confirmation may not come so easy given the toxic political atmosphere in Washington DC over the Obamacare debacle. In fact, Murthy is closely identified with the ‘Affordable Healthcare Act’ as an early supporter and grassroots advocate.

He founded Doctors for America, which was originally called Doctors for Obama, and was appointed to the president’s advisory group on prevention, health promotion, and integrative and public health which was created in 2011 as part of health reform law. The organization’s 10,000 physicians and medical students helped to campaign for Obama’s election, an effort that brought Murthy to the attention of the President. Thus, the Republicans maynot give him an easy passage. If however he gets confirmed then he will serve a four–year term at a critical moment in US healthcare history that is seeing a vigorous discourse on the socalled lifestyle diseases.

Times of India
16 November 2013,
by - Chidanand Rajghatta

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