|Surgeon General of the|
Seal of the United States Public Health Service, 1798
Flag of the United States Surgeon General
|U.S. Public Health Service|
|Reports to||Assistant Secretary for Health|
|Seat||Hubert H. Humphrey Building, United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Washington, D.C.|
|Appointer||President of the United States|
with United States Senate advice and consent
|Term length||4 years|
|Constituting instrument||42 U.S.C. § 205 and|
42 U.S.C. § 207
|Formation||March 29, 1871|
|First holder||John M. Woodworth (as Supervising Surgeon)|
The surgeon general of the United States is the operational head of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC) and thus the leading spokesperson on matters of public health in the federal government of the United States. The Surgeon General's office and staff are known as the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG) which is housed within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health.
The U.S. surgeon general is nominated by the president of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. The surgeon general must be appointed from individuals who are members of the regular corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, and have specialized training or significant experience in public health programs. The surgeon general serves a four-year term of office and, depending on whether the current assistant secretary for health is a commissioned corps officer, is either the senior or next most senior uniformed officer of the commissioned corps, holding the rank of a vice admiral. The current acting surgeon general is Rear Admiral Susan Orsega.
The surgeon general reports to the assistant secretary for health (ASH), who may be a four-star admiral in the commissioned corps, and who serves as the principal advisor to the secretary of health and human services on public health and scientific issues. The surgeon general is the overall head of the commissioned corps, a 6,500-member cadre of uniformed health professionals who are on call 24 hours a day and can be dispatched by the secretary of HHS or the assistant secretary for Health in the event of a public health emergency.
The surgeon general is also the ultimate award authority for several public health awards and decorations, the highest of which that can be directly awarded is the Surgeon General's Medallion (the highest award bestowed by board action is the Public Health Service Distinguished Service Medal). The surgeon general also has many informal duties, such as educating the American public about health issues and advocating healthy lifestyle choices.
The office also periodically issues health warnings. Perhaps the best known example of this is the surgeon general's warning label that has been present on all packages of American tobacco cigarettes since 1966. A similar health warning has appeared on alcoholic beverages labels since 1988.
In 1798, Congress established the Marine Hospital Fund, a network of hospitals that cared for sick and disabled seamen. The Marine Hospital Fund was reorganized along military lines in 1870 and became the Marine Hospital Service—predecessor to today's United States Public Health Service. The service became a separate bureau of the Treasury Department with its own staff, administration, headquarters in Washington, D.C, and the position of supervising surgeon (later surgeon general, where in this context the adjective "general" following the noun meaning widespread or overall, not military rank).
After 141 years under the Treasury Department, the Service came under the Federal Security Agency in 1939, then the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) in 1953, and finally the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Some surgeons general are notable for being outspoken and/or advocating controversial proposals on how to reform the U.S. health system. The office is not a particularly powerful one, and has little direct statutory impact on policy-making, but Surgeons General are often vocal advocates of precedent-setting, far-sighted, unconventional, or even unpopular health policies.
- On January 11, 1964, Rear Admiral Luther Terry, M.D., published a landmark report saying that smoking may be hazardous to health, sparking nationwide anti-smoking efforts. Terry and his committee defined cigarette smoking of nicotine as not an addiction. The committee itself consisted largely of physicians who themselves smoked. This report went uncorrected for 24 years.
- In 1986, Vice Admiral Dr. C. Everett Koop's report on AIDS called for some form of AIDS education in the early grades of elementary school, and gave full support for using condoms for disease prevention. He also resisted pressure from the Reagan administration to report that abortion was psychologically harmful to women, stating he believed it was a moral issue rather than one concerning the public health.
- In 1994, Vice Admiral Dr. Joycelyn Elders spoke at a United Nations conference on AIDS. She was asked whether it would be appropriate to promote masturbation as a means of preventing young people from engaging in riskier forms of sexual activity. She replied, "I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught." Elders also spoke in favor of studying drug legalization. In a reference to the national abortion issue, she said, "We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children." She was fired by President Bill Clinton in December 1994.
The U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force also have officers overseeing medical matters in their respective services who hold the title Surgeon General, of their respective services, while the surgeon general of the United States is surgeon general of the entire country as a whole.
The surgeon general is a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, one of the eight uniformed services of the United States, and by law holds the rank of vice admiral. Officers of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps are classified as non-combatants, but can be subjected to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the Geneva Conventions when designated by the commander-in-chief as a military force or if they are detailed or assigned to work with the armed forces. Officers of the commissioned corps, including the surgeon general, wear uniforms that are modeled after uniforms of the United States Navy and the United States Coast Guard, except that the commissioning devices, buttons, and insignia are unique. Officers in the U.S. Public Health Service wear unique devices that are similar to U.S. Navy staff corps officers (e.g., Navy Medical Service Corps, Supply Corps, etc.).
The only surgeon general to actually hold the rank of a four-star admiral was David Satcher (born 1941, served 1998–2002). This was because he served simultaneously in the positions of surgeon general (three-star) and assistant secretary for health (which is a four-star office). John Maynard Woodworth (1837–1879, served 1871–1879), the first holder of the office as "Supervising Surgeon", is the only surgeon general to not hold a rank.
List of surgeons general of the United States
|Term of office||Appointed by
|Took office||Left office||Time in office|
|1||John M. Woodworth
|March 29, 1871||March 14, 1879||7 years, 350 days||Ulysses S. Grant
John B. Hamilton
|April 3, 1879||June 1, 1891||12 years, 59 days||Rutherford B. Hayes
|June 1, 1891||November 21, 1911||20 years, 173 days||Benjamin Harrison
|January 13, 1912||March 3, 1920||8 years, 50 days||William Howard Taft
Hugh S. Cumming
|March 3, 1920||January 31, 1936||15 years, 334 days||Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Parran Jr.
|April 6, 1936||April 6, 1948||12 years, 0 days||Franklin D. Roosevelt
Leonard A. Scheele
|April 6, 1948||August 8, 1956||8 years, 124 days||Harry S. Truman
Leroy E. Burney
|August 8, 1956||January 29, 1961||4 years, 174 days||Dwight D. Eisenhower
|March 2, 1961||October 1, 1965||4 years, 213 days||John F. Kennedy
|10||William H. Stewart
|October 1, 1965||August 1, 1969||3 years, 304 days||Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard A. Prindle
|August 1, 1969||December 18, 1969||139 days||Richard Nixon
|11||Jesse L. Steinfeld
|December 18, 1969||January 30, 1973||3 years, 43 days|||
S. Paul Ehrlich Jr.
|January 31, 1973||July 13, 1977||4 years, 163 days|||
Julius B. Richmond
|July 13, 1977||January 20, 1981||3 years, 191 days||Jimmy Carter
John C. Greene
|January 21, 1981||May 14, 1981||113 days||Ronald Reagan
|–||Edward Brandt Jr.
|May 14, 1981||January 21, 1982||252 days|
C. Everett Koop
|January 21, 1982||October 1, 1989||7 years, 253 days|
James O. Mason
|October 1, 1989||March 9, 1990||159 days||George H. W. Bush
|March 9, 1990||June 30, 1993||3 years, 113 days|
Robert A. Whitney
|July 1, 1993||September 8, 1993||69 days||Bill Clinton
|September 8, 1993||December 31, 1994||1 year, 114 days|
Audrey F. Manley
|January 1, 1995||July 1, 1997||2 years, 181 days|
|February 13, 1998||February 12, 2002||3 years, 364 days|||
Kenneth P. Moritsugu
|February 13, 2002||August 4, 2002||172 days||George W. Bush
|August 5, 2002||July 31, 2006||3 years, 360 days|
Kenneth P. Moritsugu
|August 1, 2006||September 30, 2007||1 year, 60 days|
Steven K. Galson
|October 1, 2007||October 1, 2009||2 years, 0 days|
Donald L. Weaver
|October 1, 2009||November 3, 2009||33 days||Barack Obama
|November 3, 2009||July 16, 2013||3 years, 255 days|||
|July 17, 2013||December 18, 2014||1 year, 154 days|
|December 18, 2014||April 21, 2017||2 years, 124 days|
|April 21, 2017||September 5, 2017||137 days||Donald Trump
|September 5, 2017||January 20, 2021||3 years, 137 days|
|January 26, 2021||Incumbent||26 days||Joe Biden
- Chief Medical Officer (Ireland)
- Chief Medical Officer (United Kingdom)
- Chief Public Health Officer of Canada
- Medical Officer of Health
- Surgeon General
- Surgeon General of the United States Air Force
- Surgeon General of the United States Army
- Surgeon General of the United States Navy
- Reverted to the rank of vice admiral in 2001, for the remainder of his term as surgeon general, when he no longer held the office of Assistant Secretary for Health.
- (ASPA), Digital Communications Division (DCD), Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (2008-10-24). "OASH Organization Chart". HHS.gov. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
-  42 USC 205. Appointment and tenure of office of Surgeon General; reversion in rank.
-  42 USC 207. Grades, ranks, and titles of commissioned corps.
- "Public Health, Commissioned Corps Uniforms and Ranks". Archived from the original on 2008-05-13.
- "Public Health Information | R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company". R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Retrieved 2017-08-16.
- "Legislation". depts.washington.edu. Retrieved 2017-08-16.
- (OSG), Office of the Surgeon General. "About the Office of the Surgeon General". www.surgeongeneral.gov.
- Julie M. Fenster Archived 2008-08-28 at the Wayback Machine "Hazardous to Your Health" American Heritage, Oct. 2006.
- Joel Spitzer. The Surgeon General says... WhyQuit.com. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
- Winn, Mari (October 9, 1988). "The Legacy of Dr. Koop". The New York Times.
- Leon Dash, "Joycelyn Elders: From Sharecropper's Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States of America", Washington Monthly, January–February 1997
- Dreifus, Claudia (9 March 1994). "Joycelyn Elders" – via NYTimes.com.
- "David Satcher (1998–2002)". U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. January 4, 2007. Retrieved January 22, 2009.
- "House Panel Bids U.S. Study Marijuana's Use and Effects". The New York Times. Associated Press. September 7, 1969. p. 62. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
- Zielinski, Graeme (September 15, 2001). "Public Health Researcher Richard Prindle Dies". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
- "Washington: For the Record – December 18, 1969". The New York Times. December 19, 1969. p. 7. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
- "Jesse Leonard Steinfeld (1969–1973)". SurgeonGeneral.gov. 2007-01-04. Retrieved 2014-04-29.
- Office, U.S. Government Accountability (27 August 1974). "Need for More Effective Management of Community Mental Health Centers Program" (B-164031(5)). Cite journal requires
- "HHS Secretaries – National Institutes of Health (NIH)". Nih.gov. Archived from the original on 2008-09-24. Retrieved 2014-04-29.
- "Obama picks Regina Benjamin as surgeon general". Reuters. July 13, 2009.
- Stobbe, Mike (December 3, 2009). "Surgeon general: More minority doctors needed". WTOP. Retrieved December 5, 2009.
- Collier, Andrea King (2017-05-04). "5 things to know about acting Surgeon General, Sylvia Trent-Adams". NBC News. Retrieved 2021-01-26.
- Diamond, Dan (2021-01-25). "Biden to tap nurse as acting surgeon general". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-01-26.