U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy has been removed by the Trump administration and replaced temporarily by his deputy, Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams.
Murthy, a holdover from the Obama administration, was asked to resign, according to a statement released Friday night by the Department of Health and Human Services. The statement said that “after assisting in a smooth transition into the new Trump administration,” Murthy “has been relieved of his duties.” Trent-Adams, a 24-year veteran of the Public Health Service Corps and a former chief nurse officer of the public health service, will fill the role for now, the statement said.
In a post on Facebook, Murthy wrote that “for the grandson of a poor farmer from India to be asked by the president to look out for the health of an entire nation was a humbling and uniquely American story. I will always be grateful to our country for welcoming my immigrant family nearly 40 years ago and giving me this opportunity to serve.”
A physician, Murthy, 39, is a longtime believer that gun violence is a public health issue, a view that stalled his nomination in the Senate for more than a year and probably did not align him well with the current administration. He took office in December 2014, and in an interview with the Washington Post four months later, he did not back off those views.
“The statements I’ve made in the past about gun violence being a public health issue, I stand by those comments because they’re a fact,” he said then. “They’re a fact that nearly every medical professional who’s ever cared for a patient can attest to.”
His biggest accomplishment may have been the November 2016 publication of a landmark report on drug and alcohol addiction, which placed that condition alongside smoking, AIDS and other public health crises of the past 50 years that previous surgeons general have tried to address. The report called the addiction epidemic “a moral test for America.” His office sent millions of letters to doctors asking for their help against the opioid epidemic.
In 2015, amid a serious measles outbreak, Murthy urged parents to have their children vaccinated, adding his voice to the chorus trying to counter the small but burgeoning anti-vaccination movement. “The most important message I have is to please, please, please get your child vaccinated,” he said at the time. Later that year, he called for a walking campaign to combat chronic disease and obesity.
Sometimes known as the “nation’s doctor,” the surgeon general has little power beyond the ability to call attention to serious public health problems and offer data and solutions. He or she oversees the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, more than 6,600 uniformed public health-care personnel who work in various parts of the federal government. Some worked on the recent Zika and Ebola crises.
“Healing happens when we are able to truly talk to and connect with each other,” Murthy wrote in his Facebook post. “That means listening and understanding. It means assuming good, not the worst. It means pausing before we judge. Building a more connected America will require us to find new ways to talk to each other.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.