Dr. Vivek H. Murthy was confirmed by the US Senate in March 2021 to serve as the 21st Surgeon General of the United States. As the Nation’s Doctor, the Surgeon General’s mission is to help lay the foundation for a healthier country, relying on the best scientific information available to provide clear, consistent, and equitable guidance and resources for the public. As the Vice Admiral of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Dr. Murthy commands a uniformed service of over 6,000 dedicated public health officers, serving the most underserved and vulnerable populations domestically and abroad. While serving as 21st Surgeon General, Dr. Murthy is focused on drawing attention to and working across government to address numerous critical public health issues, including the growing proliferation of health misinformation, the ongoing youth mental health crisis, well-being and burnout in the health worker community, and social isolation and loneliness.
Dr. Murthy was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, to parents who immigrated from Karnataka, India. When he was three, his family moved to Miami, where his parents established a medical practice. His passion for medicine and dedication to promoting health and wellness have been evident from a young age. Growing up as the child of Indian immigrants, he was inspired by the compassionate care his parents, Hallegere and Myetriae Murthy, provided to their patients at his father’s medical clinic in Miami, Florida.
The experience of observing his parents treat their patients with the same level of care and concern as they would their own family members left a lasting impression on Dr. Murthy, fueling his desire to pursue a career in medicine.
After attending Miami Palmetto Senior High School, he pursued higher education at Harvard University, graduating with a magna cum laude degree in biochemical sciences in 1997. Later, in 2003, Dr. Murthy earned his MD from Yale School of Medicine and an MBA from Yale School of Management, which he attended as a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans recipient. While at Yale, Dr. Murthy played a crucial role in initiating ‘The Healer’s Art,’ a four-week elective that covered important topics such as physician burnout, patient loss, and the responsibility of being a healer.
Dr. Murthy’s commitment to public health and advocacy began during his undergraduate studies at Harvard, where he co-founded two non-profit organizations focused on HIV/AIDS education in India and the US and training women in rural India to become community health workers. After completing his internal medicine residency, he founded Doctors for America, an organization that promotes affordable and high-quality care for all and has over 15,000 physicians and medical students as members.
His work in healthcare advocacy and reform caught the attention of President Barack Obama, who appointed him to serve on the Presidential Advisory Council on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health in 2011. Dr. Murthy’s efforts to advance the nation’s health through prevention continued during Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012, where he served as co-chair of the healthcare advisory committee.
After his impactful work in healthcare advocacy and reform, Dr. Murthy continued to make strides in healthcare innovation. He co-founded TrialNetworks, a cloud-based clinical trial optimization system for pharmaceutical and biotechnology trials that improves the quality and efficiency of clinical trials to bring new drugs to market faster and more safely. Initially founded in 2008 as Epernicus, the company began as a collaborative networking web platform for scientists to boost research productivity. However, under Dr. Murthy’s leadership and expertise, it has evolved into a system that revolutionizes the way clinical trials are conducted.
In recognition of his accomplishments and expertise, President Obama nominated Dr. Murthy for the United States Surgeon General position in November 2013. Explaining the complexity of the role, he says: “The Surgeon General is responsible for two main duties. The first is to provide accurate scientific information to the public on various health issues, including pressing crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and chronic conditions such as mental illness and obesity.” He continues, “The second responsibility of the Surgeon General is to lead the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, which is made up of approximately 6,500 medical and public health professionals, including doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and pharmacists. In times of emergency, such as during natural disasters or disease outbreaks, these officers can be deployed to provide medical care and support public health infrastructure in the United States and worldwide. For instance, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, officers were sent to the Gulf Coast to assist in the response efforts.”
After serving as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Murthy was relieved of his duties by President Donald Trump in April 2017. However, he remained committed to public service and joined the advisory council of the Biden-Harris Transition Team in September 2020. In November, he was appointed as one of the three co-chairs of the coronavirus advisory board for then-President-Elect Biden, along with David A. Kessler and Marcella Nunez-Smith. Reflecting on his decision to return to government service, he says, “When the President asked [if I would return as Surgeon General] after he was elected president, it was not something I had planned. But it felt like an opportunity to be a part of a healing process for our country. I wanted to be able to tell our children in the future when they read about this COVID crisis in the history books that we did everything we could, that we were blessed with, to serve.”
During his time as Surgeon General, Dr. Murthy tackled many public health issues, including addiction, mental health, and physical activity. He released the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Substance Use and Addiction, which called for a public health approach to substance use disorders and emphasized prevention, treatment, and recovery. His historic letter to 2.3 million healthcare professionals requesting a pledge to reform the prescription of opiate drugs and the perception of those struggling with addiction revealed that addiction is a chronic illness, not a moral failing.
Dr. Murthy’s dedication to public health is further demonstrated by his efforts to address societal issues and promote strong relationships. He led initiatives such as the ‘Step It Up!’ campaign, which encouraged Americans to walk more, and he also addressed the effects of climate change on public health. In 2016, he predicted an increase in illness and death episodes by the end of the century. In addition to these initiatives, he spoke out against conversion therapy, calling for greater societal acceptance.
In conclusion, he says, “If we want to rebuild as a society, we have to look at our foundation. Our foundation is based on our relationships with one another. If we can strengthen the fabric of society by strengthening relationships, families, neighborhoods, and communities across America, that’s how we become a healthier, happier, and more resilient country. That’s good for preparing us for the next pandemic but also for our overall health and well-being. That’s what I really care about.”