Beginning his presentation with the words, “I’m thrilled to be home,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy MED ’03 SOM ’03 spoke at the School of Management on Wednesday afternoon.
Murthy, the first U.S. surgeon general of Indian descent, was appointed in November 2013 but faced opposition from a Republican senate until his confirmation in December 2014. Prompted by a series of questions — both from Ann Kurth NUR ’90, who currently teaches at New York University and will become the next dean of the Yale School of Nursing in January 2016, and from audience members — Murthy discussed the importance of community, education and prevention in both the health care system and in the business world.
Highlighting his work with nonprofit organizations and as a practicing physician, Murthy emphasized the importance of building trustful relationships to reach a common end goal.
“With two parents that ran a family medicine practice growing up, I didn’t know much about the medicine at an early age. What I did know was that the [patient-doctor] relationships my parents were building were incredibly important, and I wanted to do the same thing,” Murthy stated.
Murthy added that he loved his time at the School of Medicine and at the SOM because of the strong emphasis on interaction between students of different schools of the University, which reinforced his commitment to community-building.
Spurred by this same commitment, at age 17, Murthy co-founded Visions, a program that he said aimed to increase HIV/AIDS awareness in India through education initiatives. Kurth said this was the first of three nonprofits that Murthy would found over the course of his career.
Kurth highlighted the complex community health issues — including obesity, mental health stigma and substance abuse — that Murthy will be charged with confronting during his tenure. Murthy himself said complex problems like these do not necessarily need complicated solutions. He said that as a community, people need to simplify the lens of the problem and build a culture of prevention. According to Murthy, this is divided into three main ideas that include active living, access to good nutrition and emotional wellbeing.
“We spend a majority of resources on treatment but we spend little resources on preventing illnesses in the first place,” he said. “So why don’t we allocate resources into prevention as a whole?”
Addressing an audience primarily composed of SOM students, Murthy emphasized that the responsibility to establish a culture of prevention does not fall solely on health care providers, but also on business leaders.
“People need to understand that their leaders at work and in education comprehend the importance of health,” he said. “Health is a common thread that weaves through everything that we do.”
If there was one thing that could help health care succeed in the United States, it would not be money, Murthy said, but rather, collective will. He added that it is possible to allow people to regain a sense of agency in preserving their own health — by convincing them that they are capable of and responsible for improving it.
Students interviewed after the talk agreed with Murthy’s message that health is a collaborative effort that involves both the medical and business industries.
“Health affects absolutely everything we do,” Julie Mariuz NUR ’16 said. “I don’t think that people are aware of that and many times their own health is the last thing they are thinking about.”
Jared Petravicius SOM ’16 said that while he believes collective will is necessary for building a community effort, it needs to be complemented by money. While collective will establishes the impact, he said, money can magnify it. Kendra Berenson SOM ’17 agreed with Murthy, adding that she also believes that collective will is a “thread” and that individuals and communities have both the power and responsibility to make a change.
At 38, Murthy is the youngest surgeon general to serve.