Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN, has been offered the post of Surgeon General by President-elect Barack Obama, according to sources.
Gupta, 39, has reportedly accepted the job, according to the Washington Post, and is already working out the details of moving his family from Atlanta to Washington. (See Sanjay Gupta's column Fit Nation.)
The telegenic Gupta seems at first an unorthodox choice for Surgeon General, a position usually occupied by a government health official. The duties of the Surgeon General include educating the public on all public-health issues, ranging from HIV prevention to obesity, as well as analyzing and advising the President and the Secretary of Health and Human Services about U.S. health policy, including insurance coverage and disease-prevention efforts.
But Gupta's selection may hint at the Obama Administration's seriousness about addressing the most significant health concerns facing the nation. With obesity and diabetes rates reaching record levels, especially among children, Obama's focus has been on preventive health care staving off disease before it arises. Having anchored specials on CNN to inspire Americans to become more active and eat healthier, Gupta though short on traditional government experience would seem well qualified to bring this message to the public. Gupta launched CNN's New You Resolution program, urging viewers to stick to their New Year's resolutions to become fitter, and is the engine behind the Fit Nation initiative, which tours the country promoting basic principles of healthy living. Gupta also writes a health column for TIME magazine.
In addition to his duties on air, Gupta holds a faculty position in neurosurgery at Emory University, where he continues to perform surgery a few times a week. Gupta's limited health-policy experience includes a stint as a White House fellow in 1997, where he worked with then First Lady Hillary Clinton on health-care reform. In 2001, months before the Sept. 11 attacks, Gupta joined CNN and has since provided on-the-spot medical analysis on news events ranging from the anthrax attacks to Vice President Cheney's heart problems and the aftermath of the tsunami in Sri Lanka in 2004. In 2003 he traveled to Iraq and Kuwait, where he joined the U.S. Navy's medical unit and performed brain surgery on several patients.
As Surgeon General, Gupta would oversee the 6,000-member commissioned corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. Traditionally, the office, which was established in 1871, has served as a soapbox for promoting healthy living goals: C. Everett Koop launched an antismoking campaign in the 1980s; Joycelyn Elders, under President Clinton, pushed for stronger sex education in schools (she was later forced to resign, following the program's controversy); and Richard Carmona focused on controlling drug abuse under President George W. Bush. With Gupta, that soapbox has the potential to become a podium for convincing the American public as well as legislators that the health of the U.S. cannot be fixed until we stop focusing only on health care and get serious about health.