Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Examining the Surgeon General

As the popular Dr. Sanjay Gupta declines the position of Surgeon General for President Obama, one may wonder what does the Surgeon General do

The position of Surgeon General is the head of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, which is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. This position oversees the 6,000 member Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, which provides assistance in case of a public health emergency. The Surgeon General is more widely known for his responsibilities to educate, advocate, and advise the President and the nation on matters of health. The most widely seen example of the job of the Surgeon General is the warning label on cigarettes, and a major public health awareness project under the Surgeon General today is the prevention of childhood obesity.

The Surgeon General advises the President and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Congress established the predecessor of the U.S. Public Health Service in 1798 although it did not resemble the current organization until 1871. Since 1871, fifteen men and two women have served as Surgeon General. Although the position does not have too much legislative influence, it has made an impact in public health policies, such as projects to promote the prevention of AIDS.

This is a great jumping point to discuss with your student the role of the federal government in public health. How much should the federal government get involved in public health? Why? Explore fiscal incentives as well as the social incentives for the government. What, if any, effects would an overhaul in our healthcare system have on the role of the Surgeon General?

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