Sanjay Gupta for Surgeon General, is he qualified?

Is this a case of style over substance?

Val Jones, who has interviewed three recent Surgeon Generals, calls it a “shock,” and says, “I don’t think he has the gravitas or appropriate experience for the role of Surgeon General of the United States.”

She cites a source that is concerned about his lack of experience, and notes that it may cause tension within the Pentagon. “It will be difficult for Gupta to be taken seriously by peers at the Pentagon and State Department,” reports the source, adding, “If Sanjay Gupta is confirmed as Surgeon General he will achieve the immediate rank of admiral, even though he has no previous military or public health experience whatsoever.”

Dr. Gupta is definitely an bold pick, but does his credentials as a reporter make him better suited to “public relations for the U.S. government, [rather than] the office of Surgeon General?”

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  • Lyle

    The Office of the Surgeon General has been marginalized of late and I think that it could use a good shake-up. Given his stint in the White House and his extensive traveling for CNN, Dr. Gupta offers a unique perspective.

    That being said, I don’t know if I would have made the choice because it might be hard for the President to keep a talking head under control and on message.

  • John

    If it is a testament to the general irrelevance of the position, then a showboat appointment is in order. Dr. Gupta is trained as a neurosurgeon, and has an appointment at Emory, convenient to the CNN headquarters. But it is hard to believe he can have much of a clinical and surgical practice with his other obligations as a reporter and commentator. Both are full-time-plus kinds of jobs. And he just isn’t that old which for a neurosurgeon means not much practice experience.

    A more serious appointment would be a dean of a major medical school or a similar senior physician from the military who can credibly hold a job at the rank of Admiral, which usually does presuppose significant professional experience in medicine.

    What this says is the Obama transition team just doesn’t have many connections in the medical community. Gupta is a television personality but in the medical community isn’t taken all that seriously. They really ought to try a little harder.

  • Anonymous

    When I first read this, I thought it was a joke. I always thought the surgeon general was supposed to be America’s top public health officer and provide guidance for setting our public health priorities. He’s a fine “media doc” and probably a fine surgeon but I don’t think he has the public health credentials to give him credibility.

  • Happyman

    My guess is that the wife, Michelle Obama, in her infinite wisdom as your standard overpaid-but-ignorant hospital administrator, had a hand in this decision.

    I don't think he's necessarily a bad choice, but I'm sure his age, style, and "cool" factor had more to do with this selection than his experience on matters related to PUBLIC HEALTH, which have almost nothing to do with neurosurgery.

    I agree with posters on the blog who would rather see an experienced primary care doctor selected, as they're much more familiar than a typical subspecialist (especially in an academic setting) with how the medicare pot is spent & abused by so many.

  • Anonymous

    I am not a fan of Sanjay Gupta. Aside from being a self-appointed expert on everything (I am sure he knows his neurosurgery very well), but he has taken part in headline grabbing, but misleading/fear-mongoring stories. Examples: bird flu (oooh, its coming to get you) and the TB guy on the plane. I enjoyed when Michael Moore called him out for reciting insurance company and pharmaceutical industry talking points while debating “Sicko.”

    Why doesn’t he just take care of patients like he was trained to do?

  • Biff

    It will be difficult for Gupta to be taken seriously by peers at the Pentagon and State Department.

    Irrelevant. The Surgeon General is head of the US Public Health Service, which is not related at all to the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, or the Department of State. The Surgeon General and the PHS is part of the Department of Health & Human Services. While there may be some need for coordination or consultation among cabinet departments, the functions are quite independent.

    Saying that the Surgeon General holds the rank of Admiral within the PHS and should be concerned about what the Pentagon thinks is little different than saying that someone who holds a GS-15 level post in NIH should be concerned about what someone who holds a GS-15 level post in the FBI thinks about their scientific credentials.

  • los anjalis

    Some other thoughts on the gupta pick.

    Yes, some questions re: gravitas, the right kind of experience, and arguably conflict-of-interest issues.

  • Anonymous

    The last SG that looked (and acted) the part was VADM Koop.

    Gupta? Sure, why not. At least he can string more words together intelligibly than Joceyln Elders could.

  • Los Anjalis

    My biggest problem with Dr Gupta is that he is FRAUGHT with conflicts of interest. he’s essentially pharma lobbying-by-proxy and doesn’t care one bit about evidence based medicine. Such an appointment (conflict of interest ridden Gupta to Surgeon General) is something the Senate should look at very carefully before approving the appointment.

    More at this wonderful diary by Dr Steve B.

  • Garden Keeper

    I returned here after reading the discussion of this appointment at the NYT.

    I think that this is a truly terrible choice. Some commentary has revolved around the fact the SG’s position has been diminished over the past 8 years (or longer). Granted. But the trend should end, not renewed.

    Obama offered some hope that science would return to an honored status within his Administration. Some of his other picks in the sciences offered confirmation of the view. Gupta does not.

    Further, his gutless and misleading reports on autism and his breathless reports on Avian flu (2005-06) diminish him as a science-based doctor. If you want just an attractive talking head from TV — House is available.

  • Anonymous

    “Science,” hum. For more than two decades, the “science” was that smoking was safe, that asbestos was safe. The “science” is too often a product of politics and economic loyalties. 95% of the industry-sponsored studies say cell phones are safe; about 95% of the non-industry sponsored studies say they are not safe. Medical journals are often accused of running editorial content that – surprise – was written by a doctor on someone else’s payroll to lend the aura of objectivity and “good science” to the product being pushed, often a pharmaceutical drug. The press likes to quote Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who says the connection between vaccines and autism is nothing more than a sad coincidence. Of course. He is one of the patent holders of the rotavirus vaccine, the recipient of a $350,000 grant from Merck for its development, and a consultant to Merck Pharmaceuticals. His opinions are not “good science.” Nor is it good science to say cell phones, genetically modified food, high fructose corn syrup, BPA in plastics… are of no concern.

    Gupta, like most of the MDs, is too influenced by the pharmaceutical industry. But at least he is listening – waffling as it is called – to the dangers of cell phones and vaccines.

    There is quite a growing body of thought that autism is the result of a number of environmental assaults. In many cases, the 5 vaccines in one day were simply the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The CDC and Environmental Working group have both confirmed that babies marinate in a toxic stew in the mother’s womb; they come into the world with more than 200 chemicals in their bloodstream – pesticides, fire retardant, Teflon, etc. It is no wonder that the stats for this generation of children are dismal:

    Cancer is now the leading cause of death in children, aged 1-14.
    The U.S. government reports that 1 out of every 6 children has a developmental disability.

     The CDC reports that 1 in 150 children have autism. About 1 in 10 children in public schools has ADHD.
     America now uses 90% of the world’s Ritalin – more than five times the rest of the world combined. Emergency room visits by children ages 10-14 involving Ritalin intoxication have now reached the same level as those for cocaine.
     The CDC reports asthma is the leading chronic illness of children in the United States. Asthma has more than doubled since 1980 affecting 1 in 4; asthma is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among those younger than 15 years of age.
     The rate of premature births increased nearly 31 percent between 1981 and 2003; the U.S. has the second worst infant mortality among 33 industrialized nations (2006).
     Children and adolescents now being treated for bipolar has increased 40-fold since 1994.
     According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (July 2007), “new epidemics in chronic health conditions among children and youth will translate into major demands on public health and welfare in the coming decades”. The study found “from 15 to 18 percent of children and adolescents have some sort of chronic health condition, nearly half of whom could be considered disabled.”

    So much of what I read says Gupta is a good pick because he’s a strong communicator. Koop wasn’t necessarily a strong communicator, but he used his strength to do what tobacco-funded politicians could not – get the American public to understand that smoking was bad for their health. This kind of leadership is what the Surgeon General should be about. He shouldn’t be an advocate for the drug makers, we already have the FDA for that. We need an advocate for health, for our children’s health.

  • Anonymous

    Sanjay Gupta is an unusual commentator, having moved from neurosurgery to journalism so early in his medical career. He is popular, in a celebrity kind of way, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a natural or a good choice for the Surgeon General. I think he doesn’t have the experience (translate: isn’t nearly old enough) as a physician to have equal standing with the surgeons general of the other uniformed service branches. He has no uniformed service experience. He is not an expert on public health. He has no significant leadership or administrative portfolio. At age 39, he doesn’t have even a decade of clinical practice experience out of his residency. With that, he would not even be considered for a department chairmanship, let alone a deanship, which approximates the level of seniority the post should command. Let Dr. Gupta keep up his fine work and re-apply in another ten or fifteen years.

    If Dr. Gupta is appointed, it will be clear that the Obama administration trivializes the role of the SG to one of a health-themed media puppet. I don’t think Dr. Gupta deserves that, and I hope we deserve better also.

  • LastoftheZucchiniFlowers

    Dr. Gupta would be ideal as SG and I find many of your petulant comments re: referring to him as a talking head bizarre and patently silly. Additionally, too many of these posts frankly reek of envy which I suppose can be appreciated in context of those who are posting. I find myself looking askance at these comments. Dr. Gupta has ALREADY done more to bolster public awareness of medical issues via his role on CNN than any physician heretofore. That he does not pontificate or bully the viewers and keeps current health care issues on the front burners is a testament to his ability to engage. Think what this can mean to the perplexed layperson watching the news who has been wrongly misled by DTC advertising and is he topic is being addressed by Dr. Gupta. I disagree that he issues edicts or uses his forum to further any personal aggrandizement. He doesn’t need to. This highly accomplished young man has the career any one of us would kill for. But face it ladies and gents, we aren’t doing it, he IS! His easygoing disposition DOES NOT stomp all over the feelings of dissenters while maintaining basic medical wisdom. If it’s purulent and conflicted interest you seek please review Dr. Carmona’s present affiliation. I will say no more about him. As a provider who once ‘wore the uniform’ in the MC/USNR I remember when Dr. Gupta was embedded with a forward deployed Marine unit which was under fire in Iraq. Though not there to perform surgery, he nonetheless did four or five neurosurgical cases while deployed with the Marines and in each case, saved the life of the patient. How many of you who are his detractors have done this? No, I didn’t think so. I must also say that although I respect her intelligence and read her blogs frequently – Dr. Val has been innoculated with the viral contagion of the green eyed monster where Dr. Gupta is concerned. This is most unfortunate. In the end, I suspect Dr. Gupta will not take the job despite his high energy level Because I think his life is exactly where he wants it to be right now. Would that all of us could say that. Thank you.

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