Surgeon General of the United States - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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).

The U.S. Surgeon General is nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by a majority vote of the Senate. The Surgeon General serves a four-year term of office and, depending on whether the current Assistant Secretary for Health is a PHSCC commissioned officer or not, is the senior or second-highest ranking uniformed officer of the PHSCC, holding the rank of a vice admiral.[1] The current Acting Surgeon General is Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, who was named to the position following Regina Benjamin's resignation on July 16, 2013.[2]


The Surgeon General reports to the Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH), who may be a four-star admiral in the United States Public Health Service, Commissioned Corps (PHSCC), and who serves as the principal adviser 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 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" labels that can be found on all packages of American tobacco cigarettes for 47 years. A similar health warning appears on alcoholic beverages labels, since 1988.


In 1798, Congress established the Marine Hospital Service—predecessor to today’s United States Public Health Service—to provide health care to sick and injured merchant seamen. In 1870, the Marine Hospital Service was reorganized as a national hospital system with centralized administration under a medical officer, the Supervising Surgeon, who was later given the title of Surgeon General.[3]

The U.S. Public Health Service was under the direction of the Office of the Surgeon General and was an independent government agency until 1953 at which point it was integrated into the newly established United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, (HEW), and later in 1979/1980 into the reorganized United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Some Surgeons General are notable for being outspoken and advocating controversial proposals on how to reform the U.S. health system.[citation needed] The office is not a particularly powerful one, and has little direct statutary impact on policy-making, but Surgeons General are often vocal advocates (with 26th President Theodore Roosevelt's practice of "The Bully Pulpit" in the early 20th Century) of precedent-setting, far-sighted, unconventional or even unpopular health policies. With the advance of modern media, and an advanced medical establishment in America, the example of former Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, during the administration of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s or the attention paid to the controversial drive to confirm certain S.G. nominees by the U.S. Senate during the administration of Bill Clinton in the 1990s, shows just how truly powerful and influential an activist Surgeon General can be. Just like in comparison to the incumbent and office of the Vice President of the United States, the character, drive and reach of the office-holder makes the office itself, far more powerful or influential as they may be—"the man makes the job"!

The U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force also have officers overseeing medical matters in their respective services who hold the title Surgeon General.

The insignia of the Surgeon General, and the USPHS, use the caduceus as opposed to the Rod of Asclepius

Service rank[edit]

The Surgeon General is a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, Commissioned Corps, one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and by law holds the rank of vice admiral.[1] 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. Officer members of these services wear uniforms that are similar to those worn by the United States Navy, 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,(b. 1941), (term: 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).[8]John Maynard Woodworth, (1837-1879), the first holder of the office as "Supervising Surgeon" (term: 1871-1879), is the only Surgeon General to not hold a rank.

Surgeons General of the United States[edit]

#NamePhotoTerm of OfficeAppointed byStart Of TermEnd Of Term
1John M. WoodworthMarch 29, 1871March 14, 1879Ulysses S. Grant
2RADMJohn B. HamiltonApril 3, 1879June 1, 1891Rutherford B. Hayes
3RADM Walter WymanJune 1, 1891November 21, 1911Benjamin Harrison
4RADM Rupert BlueJanuary 13, 1912March 3, 1920William Taft
5RADM Hugh S. CummingMarch 3, 1920January 31, 1936Woodrow Wilson
6RADM Thomas Parran, Jr.April 6, 1936April 6, 1948Franklin D. Roosevelt
7RADM Leonard A. ScheeleApril 6, 1948August 8, 1956Harry S Truman
8RADM Leroy Edgar BurneyAugust 8, 1956January 29, 1961Dwight Eisenhower
9RADM Luther TerryMarch 2, 1961October 1, 1965John F. Kennedy
10VADMWilliam H. StewartOctober 1, 1965August 1, 1969Lyndon Johnson
11RADM Jesse Leonard SteinfeldDecember 18, 1969January 30, 1973 [9]Richard Nixon
(acting)RADM S. Paul Ehrlich, Jr.January 31, 1973 [10]July 13, 1977
12VADM Julius B. RichmondJuly 13, 1977January 20, 1981 [11]Jimmy Carter
(acting)Edward Brandt, Jr.May 14, 1981January 21, 1982Ronald Reagan
13VADM C. Everett KoopJanuary 21, 1982October 1, 1989
(acting)ADMJames O. MasonOctober 1, 1989March 9, 1990George H. W. Bush
14VADM Antonia C. NovelloMarch 9, 1990June 30, 1993
(acting)RADM Robert A. WhitneyJuly 1, 1993September 8, 1993Bill Clinton
15VADM Joycelyn EldersSeptember 8, 1993December 31, 1994
(acting)RADM Audrey F. ManleyJanuary 1, 1995July 1, 1997
16ADM[8] / VADM David SatcherFebruary 13, 1998February 12, 2002
(acting)RADM Kenneth P. MoritsuguFebruary 13, 2002August 4, 2002George W. Bush
17VADM Richard CarmonaAugust 5, 2002July 31, 2006
(acting)RADM Kenneth P. MoritsuguAugust 1, 2006September 30, 2007
RADM Steven K. GalsonOctober 1, 2007October 1, 2009
RADM Donald L. WeaverOctober 1, 2009November 3, 2009Barack Obama
18VADM Regina Benjamin[12]November 3, 2009[13]July 16, 2013
(acting)RADM Boris D. LushniakJuly 17, 2013Ongoing

See also[edit]


  1. ^ abPublic Health, Commissioned Corps Uniforms and Ranks
  2. ^David (June 12, 2013). "Surgeon General Regina Benjamin announces resignation". Public Health Newswire. American Public Health Association. Retrieved July 27, 2013. 
  3. ^HHS – Office of the Surgeon General – About the Office
  4. ^Julie M. Fenster "Hazardous to Your Health" American Heritage, Oct. 2006.
  5. ^Joel Spitzer. The Surgeon General says .... Retrieved May 22, 2010. 
  6. ^Winn, Mari (October 9, 1988). "The Legacy of Dr. Koop". The New York Times. 
  7. ^Leon Dash, "Joycelyn Elders: From Sharecropper's Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States of America", Washington Monthly, January–February 1997
  8. ^ ab"Office of the Surgeon General, David Satcher, (1998–2002] url=". U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. January 4, 2007. 
  9. ^"Jesse Leonard Steinfeld (1969-1973)". 2007-01-04. Retrieved 2014-04-29. 
  10. ^
  11. ^"HHS Secretaries - National Institutes of Health (NIH)". Retrieved 2014-04-29. 
  12. ^"Obama picks Regina Benjamin as surgeon general". Reuters. July 13, 2009. 
  13. ^Stobbe, Mike (December 3, 2009). "Surgeon general: More minority doctors needed". WTOP. Retrieved December 5, 2009. 

External links[edit]