The Role of the Surgeon General

The surgeon general is the country's top doctor.
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The surgeon general of the United States is undoubtedly the most prominent physician in the land -- and the most influential. As an adviser and watchdog, the surgeon general influences public health and medical issues on a national scope. The surgeon general is appointed by the president, with consent from the Senate.


    The surgeon general originally led the U.S. Public Health Service. In that role, she was responsible for eradicating infectious diseases, promoting better public sanitation practices and providing health care services for the Coast Guard and Merchant Marines. In 1968, reorganization reforms transferred those responsibilities to the Department of Health and Human Services, freeing up the surgeon general to act more as a key public figure with substantial influence over healthcare trends and changes.


    The surgeon general is the main spokesperson for the U.S. government on all public health issues and has always been an MD. She speaks out publicly through a number of forums. She makes public appearances, gives speeches and issues published reports. The surgeon general’s advice is among the most respected sources of information regarding public health and safety, as well as the promotion of preventative medical care issues. Sometimes, the issues she deals with are controversial in nature. By raising such issues and bringing them to the nation’s attention, the surgeon general helps to bring about changes in healthcare practices.


    The surgeon general acts as an adviser to the president and to the secretary of health and human services regarding matters of public health. She gives this advice from the standpoint of scientifically based research. She advises the country on policies that govern aspects of public health and acts in a leadership role to promote initiatives regarding health-related issues. She’s championed such issues as initiatives regarding the prevention of the spread of HIV and the benefits of smoking cessation. Her reports affect policies and practices both within the United States and internationally.


    The surgeon general represents the Department of Health and Human Services on a number of federal and non-federal boards, and governing bodies of health-related organizations. Some of these organizations are the National Library of Medicine, the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and the American Medical Association. She attends board meetings and weighs in on policy decisions and national initiatives.

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