Plight of the surgeon general

Document Type


Publication Date





Volume 318, Issue 5848

Inclusive Pages



Surgeon General


The Surgeon General is widely considered to be the doctor for the nation and an ombudsman for the public's health. But in reality, modern holders of the office are tightly constrained by the increasingly politicized environment of Washington. It is difficult to imagine a modern Congress creating the office of Surgeon General. Politics wouldn't allow it to happen. Fortunately, and to our nation's great benefit, the position and the tradition already exist. But the job needs help.

Legislation is needed to do three things: provide an independent budget for the currently mendicant position; mandate an annual Surgeon General's Report on the state of the nation's health; and, essential to all else, insulate the Surgeon General from political interference. Political shielding for key government officials (such as departmental inspectors general) has precedent, and similar measures should be adapted for the Surgeon General. It is Congress that needs to rescue the office of Surgeon General and give it, once and for all, the support and protection it needs to advance the public's health.