Friday, January 9, 2009

Sanjay Gupta Could Be a Great Pick for Surgeon General

I have been surprised at some of the political criticism President-elect Obama has taken for considering CNN correspondent Sanjay Gupta for Surgeon General.

That some in the Public Health Service would be concerned career officers are being passed over is legitimate. And Gupta does not have managerial experience overseeing thousands of career health officers.

But the most successful Surgeon General in our history, C. Everett Koop, brought something to the post that I think Gupta can also bring--the ability to use it effectively as a bully pulpit toward improving our people's health. And, Dr. Koop was not a manager of thousands of people either when he came to Washington from his pediatric surgery practice in Philadelphia.

Dr. Koop had two things going for him:
  1. He was, and still is, incredibly well grounded. His moral compass is as sharp as anyone's and he is fearless about following it.
  2. He is an incredible communicator.
My sense is that the President-elect knows that what we need most in public health these days is a communicator who can lead the charge in the fight to reverse the decline in healthy behavior in our country. Put obesity and the issues related to our diets at the top of that list.

Improving America's health care will take a multi-prong attack. A reform bill dealing with our health care financing system will not be enough.

We will also need to reform our behaviors that are not helping our health.

Sanjay Gupta might just be the person to grab the Surgeon General's bully pulpit once again.

If he is, I hope he is willing to take the high moral ground just like Dr. Koop did--in Dr. Koop's case on tobacco and AIDS. Both were high risk issues to tackle in the early 1980s and Dr. Koop didn't make a lot of friends inside the Reagan administration in those days. But he sure earned the confidence of the American people!

Because if Gupta isn't willing to use the bully pulpit, and take some risks, he'll just be another pretty media face!
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