WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama’s decision to nominate an Indian-American doctor as his next surgeon general has been hailed as a move recognizing the immense contribution of the community in the medical field in the country.
“President Obama’s nomination of Dr Vivek Hallegere Murthy as our nation’s next Surgeon General is a historic moment for Indian-Americans across the country,” Congressman Hoe Crowley, Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus and Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, said.
Obama had made the announcement in this regard on Thursday. If confirmed by the Senate, Murthy would replace acting Surgeon General Rear Adm. Dr Boris Lushniak, who assumed the interim role in July when Dr Regina Benjamin stepped down.
“Indian-Americans have made many important contributions to American society, including in the medical field, and it is great to see another well-qualified leader rise in government,” Crowley said.
“Not only does Dr Murthy bring knowledge and experience to the position, but he has shown a clear commitment to improving the health of the American people. I commend President Obama for this important nomination,” the US lawmaker said in a statement.
If confirmed, Murthy, a Yale graduate, whose parents reportedly emigrated from Karnataka, will be the youngest Surgeon General in the US history and first of Indian descent.
Co-founder and president of Doctors for America, Murthy is a Hospitalist Attending Physician and Instructor in Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School.
Doctors for America is a group of 15,000 physicians and medical students that has rallied behind Obama’s signature healthcare law ‘Obamacare’.
Rajan Zed, of Indo-American Leadership Confederation, termed it as a smart choice.
“We applaud Murthy’s nomination, an outstanding physician who has demonstrated to be a sincere and innovative health leader and visionary, committed to improving the health of Americans. We urge the US Senate to speedily confirm his appointment,” he said.
Dr Sampat Shivangi, president of Indian American Forum for Political Education (IAFPE) urged the Senate for his early confirmation.
“We at IAFPE welcome the appointment of Dr Vivek Murthy who represents the next generation of Indian-Americans and we look forward to his leadership in changing the face of health of the country in coming years,” he said.
“IAFPE will stand by his nomination and will actively support him in the US Senate confirmations in the coming days in every step of the way,” Shivangi said.
Dr Vivek Hallegere Murthy
Murthy declined to be interviewed. Born in England to parents who are originally from South India, he spent most of his childhood in Miami, where his father was a primary care doctor and his mother worked in his practice, said Khan, who works for a health startup in Cambridge.
Murthy excelled academically early on. He graduated as valedictorian from Miami Palmetto Senior High School in Pinecrest, Fla., in 1994, and graduated from Harvard College in three years, distinguishing himself with a magna cum laude degree in biochemical sciences in 1997, according to officials at both schools. He then earned a combined medical and business degree from Yale, and about a decade ago, began working at Brigham and Women’s, first as an intern and now as a hospitalist. His supervisors at the Brigham describe him in outsized glowing terms, emphasizing they are not just praising him because they want him to win confirmation.
His colleagues and friends said Murthy is humble, soft-spoken, and passionately idealistic, throwing himself into his work and friendships. While he is of the age where many of his friends are marrying and having children, he is the single, honorary uncle to many, sending gifts as soon as a happy occasion is announced.
His job at the Brigham is part-time, largely so he can devote energies to his other professional interests. Those include TrialNetworks, a software start-up company in Needham that he founded in 2007, to help drug developers efficiently collect information from clinical trials. In 1995, he founded VISIONS Worldwide, a nonprofit dedicated to AIDS and HIV education in India.
In the past five years, his work mobilizing the medical profession around Obama’s universal health care law has been a prime focus. In an article in Hospitalist News in January 2012, he gave his thoughts about why he helped start Doctors for Obama in 2008, which worked to get Obama elected and was later reborn as Doctors for America. He said he was “struck by how few physicians were organizing and gathering their ideas to actually make an impact on the candidates’ platforms and, ultimately, on a health reform bill.”
“A few colleagues and I began Doctors for America with a simple belief that physicians should play a leadership role in designing and running our nation’s health care system,” he said.
Other than his work with Doctors for America, Murthy’s other political efforts have been modest. Campaign finance records show just two donations: In August 2011, he gave $500 to a Democratic congressional candidate from Illinois, Raja Krishnamoorthi, and this May, he gave $500 to Dr. Donald Berwick, a Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate and former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Khan said he called Murthy Thursday night as soon as he heard the news, and virtually “screamed” into the phone with excitement. When asked what Murthy said, Khan declined to elaborate other than to say, “He was honored and humbled.”