Despite right-wing opposition, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Vivek Murthy MED ’03 SOM ’03 to become the 19th Surgeon General at 5:58 p.m. Monday evening, with a 51 to 43 split.
Murthy, who is the first Indian-American Surgeon General, was nominated in November 2013 but saw his application stall after he claimed that gun control was a public health issue on Twitter in 2012. Opponents expressed concern that Murthy’s open support of the Affordable Care Act and background in public health advocacy work would prevent him from being an impartial spokesperson for public health. However, the Senate was still able to confirm Murthy’s nomination without Republican support.
“The vote would not have happened in the first place without a miscalculation on the part of the Republicans,” said Howard Forman, director of the M.D./M.B.A. dual-degree program at Yale.
While numerous health authorities including the American Public Health Association supported his nomination, a vote was not pushed forward until after the November elections due to fear from both parties that they would lose the support of the National Rifle Association, Forman said. Monday’s Senate session was intended for a vote regarding Obama’s executive order on immigration, but Ted Cruz stopped the vote, inadvertently opening time in the Senate calendar to vote on Murthy’s nomination.
Before arriving at Yale in 1998, Murthy had already co-founded two organizations, including a non-profit focused on HIV/AIDS education in India and a technology company supporting the operations aspect of clinical trials. Currently, Murthy is a physician at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. Murthy founded and served as president of Doctors for America in 2010, an outgrowth of Doctors for Obama, which aided Obama’s 2008 campaign. At 37, Murthy will be one of the youngest Surgeon General’s to ever be appointed.
Yale faculty and administrators expressed how well suited they thought Murthy was for the job. Nancy Angoff SPH ’81 MED ’90, associate dean for student affairs at the Yale School of Medicine, stressed that Murthy is highly accomplished and deserving of the role. She noted that his ability to negotiate would prove particularly useful given the recent Republican takeover of the Senate.
“It’s a difficult congress, getting people to agree on anything is very difficult.” she said. “But if anyone can bring people together, I think he can.”
Dean of the School of Medicine Robert Alpern said he had not heard of any criticisms of Murthy’s appointment in relation to his age, and that Murthy’s appointment will bring great excitement to everyone at the medical school.
Regarding the concerns voiced by the National Rifle Association that Murthy would use his position to advance political ideals, including gun control, Alpern said, “Surgeon Generals fight for the health of our country. It is rare that the Surgeon General has to make a political decision.”
The absence of a Surgeon General proved most evident in September, when the first American case of Ebola emerged in Dallas, Texas. Without a crucial figure informing Americans of how the public health crisis was being handled, avoidable hysteria spread throughout the country, Forman said.
Murthy will serve as Surgeon General for four years.
Correction: Dec. 16
A previous version of this article contained a quote that incorrectly stated that no Republicans voted for Murthy, when in fact one Republican voted in favor of his confirmation. The quote has since been removed.