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As a Yale student, surgeon general nominee’s energy and compassion were apparent

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2013 - Spring


When Vivek Murthy, M.D. ’03, MBA ’03, spoke on a panel at his 10th year Yale medical school reunion in 2012, he said that he was looking for a “new project.”

Ever since he was a high school student in Miami, Murthy has been looking for projects that help others. In Florida he created a program to have high school students mentor middle school students. At Harvard he launched a program that sent college students from the U.S. to India to do peer education work on HIV/AIDS. He also started a community health partnership which trained young women in rural India to be health educators and basic health care providers for their communities. After graduating from medical school Murthy founded TrialNetworks, social networking platforms that enhance communication, collaboration, and overall efficiency in clinical trials. “We help trials run faster and better so that treatments can get to patients earlier,” he said.

If the U.S. Senate approves his nomination by President Barack Obama, Murthy’s next project will be serving as the 19th surgeon general of the United States. Should he be appointed, Murthy would be the first alumnus of the School of Medicine to hold the post.

Murthy, who was inspired to practice medicine at an early age by his father, a family physician, became politically active in 2007. He was working on candidate Obama’s New England steering committee and encouraging physicians to get involved, since health care was a leading issue. When Obama became the Democratic nominee, Murthy and fellow physicians founded Doctors for Obama. After the election, the group changed its name to Doctors for America, which Murthy chairs, and is now a grassroots organization of more than 16,000 doctors and medical students working to improve access to health care for all Americans. In 2011, Murthy was appointed by Obama to the National Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. The following year he was named co-chair of the health care advisory committee for President Obama’s reelection campaign. He now serves on the National Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health, which seeks to develop a national strategy to make preventive health a foundation for the country. “This means not only bringing a greater focus on prevention to our clinical and community health services, but it also means ensuring that health promotion is a part of how we design our policies on housing, education, defense, commerce, labor, and more,” he said.

Murthy completed his residency training in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he is an attending physician. He is also an instructor at Harvard Medical School. He has lectured widely on health care reform and physician advocacy, and his writings and research have been published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Science, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and The Washington Post. Alice Chen, M.D., executive director of Doctors for America issued this statement on his nomination:

“We congratulate Dr. Vivek Murthy on his nomination to be the next Surgeon General of the United States. He has a tremendous dedication and commitment to improving the lives and health of Americans. He has been a tireless leader in bringing together 16,000 doctors and medical students from all 50 states for the common cause of improving the health of the nation. He brings two decades of experience as a champion in improving health, building coalitions, and bringing diverse people together to bring better health to communities. We are confident Dr. Murthy will be an extraordinary leader for the nation and for improving the health of all Americans as Surgeon General.”

Classmates and faculty recalled Vivek Murthy from his student days at Yale.

Howard P. Forman, M.D., professor of diagnostic radiology, of economics, of management, and of public health (health policy), and director of the M.D./M.B.A. Program at Yale, was Murthy's teacher in two classes at the School of Management.

“He has been instilled with a sense of values and a commitment to making sure that everybody has access to quality health care. That was his belief even as a first year medical student. … Vivek is a man who has developed a well-honed message of his own over the last 15 years, showing a commitment to improving the delivery of health care and the improvement of health domestically and globally.”

Margaret Bia, M.D., professor of medicine, worked with Murthy and Auguste H. Fortin VI, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine, to start a class in the healer’s art in which physicians and students share stories about the healing mission of medicine.

“I am not at all surprised. He was always creative, resourceful, on a mission to try to do something that would make a contribution. He had a great deal of self-confidence, but also humility. I do not think this is the last we are going to hear of Vivek Murthy.”

Classmate, Andrew Norden, M.D. ’02

From the moment I met Vivek Murthy, I knew he was a prime candidate for changing the world. He has an authentic and deep-seated passion for helping people to achieve optimal health, and he has been working toward this end since adolescence. Vivek is uniquely intelligent, thoughtful, open-minded, honest, and kind. He is an unusually good listener. In medical school, I recall that he would often listen quietly to a discussion of a controversial topic with interest. He would wait until the opposing viewpoints were on the table and finally make a critical comment that recognized an understanding of each position and suggest a thoughtful path to resolution. He frequently got the last word in because once he had spoken, everyone could be seen nodding in agreement. Vivek has proven that he is a highly capable and inspiring leader, one with unusual charisma and vision, who I know will effectively represent the country’s physicians and patients. I could not be more excited for him to have this opportunity, and I am confident that no one would do a better job.

Classmate, Scott Berkowitz, M.D. ’03

Vivek’s ambition and talents are only exceeded by the genuineness and warmness of his personality. He will continue to make great contributions wherever he invests himself, and our country will benefit greatly from his service.

Classmate, Tracey Cho, M.D. ’03

What always struck me about Vivek was how he quietly brought people together, explored ideas, and built up a network of those with common goals. In a large group he would thoughtfully take in everything around him without the need to stand out. One would never know that he had already done so much and made such a large impact. Through all of his accomplishments and focus on population health, he has remained sincerely interested in individuals. I am not surprised that he has been chosen for this crucial role and can think of no one better suited for the position!

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