Surgeon General of the United States

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Surgeon General of the United States

RADM Boris Lushniak acting Surgeon General.jpg

RADM Boris D. Lushniak (Acting)
since: July 17, 2013
FirstJohn M. Woodworth
FormationMarch 29, 1871

Flag of the United States Surgeon General.svg
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Surgeon General of the United States

RADM Boris Lushniak acting Surgeon General.jpg

RADM Boris D. Lushniak (Acting)
since: July 17, 2013
FirstJohn M. Woodworth
FormationMarch 29, 1871

Flag of the United States Surgeon General.svg

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]


US Public Health Service

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 cigarettes. A similar health warning appears on alcoholic beverages.


US Public Health Service Collar Device
US Public Health Service Cap Device

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 United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and later into the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

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 impact on policy-making, but Surgeons General are often vocal advocates of unconventional or unpopular health policies.

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 stars, shoulder boards, and sleeve stripes of the Surgeon General

The Surgeon General is a commissioned officer in the 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 U.S. Navy, except that the commissioning devices, buttons, and insignia are unique. Officers in 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 hold the rank of a four-star admiral was David Satcher. 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 is the only Surgeon General to not hold a rank.

Surgeons General of the United States[edit]

#NamePhotoTerm of OfficeAppointed by
Start Of TermEnd Of Term
1John M. WoodworthJohn Maynard Woodworth by Hermann Günther, 1865.jpgMarch 29, 1871March 14, 1879Ulysses S. Grant
2RADM John B. HamiltonJohn B Hamilton.jpgApril 3, 1879June 1, 1891Rutherford B. Hayes
3RADM Walter WymanWater Wyman.gifJune 1, 1891November 21, 1911Benjamin Harrison
4RADM Rupert BlueRupert Blue.jpgJanuary 13, 1912March 3, 1920William Taft
5RADM Hugh S. CummingHugh S Cumming.gifMarch 3, 1920January 31, 1936Woodrow Wilson
6RADM Thomas Parran, Jr.Thomas Parran, Jr., photo portrait as surgeon general.jpgApril 6, 1936April 6, 1948Franklin D. Roosevelt
7RADM Leonard A. ScheeleLeonard Scheele, photo portrait as surgeon general.jpgApril 6, 1948August 8, 1956Harry S Truman
8RADM Leroy Edgar BurneyLeroy Edgar Burney, photo portrait as surgeon general.jpgAugust 8, 1956January 29, 1961Dwight Eisenhower
9RADM Luther TerryLuther Terry photo portrait as surgeon general.jpgMarch 2, 1961October 1, 1965John F. Kennedy
10VADM William H. StewartWilliam H. Stewart, photo portrait as surgeon general.jpgOctober 1, 1965August 1, 1969Lyndon Johnson
11RADM Jesse Leonard SteinfeldJesse Leonard Steinfeld, photo portrait as surgeon general.jpgDecember 18, 1969January 30, 1973 [9]Richard Nixon
(acting)RADM S. Paul Ehrlich, Jr.January 31, 1973 [10]July 13, 1977
12VADM Julius B. RichmondJulius Richmond, Surgeon General official photo.jpgJuly 13, 1977January 20, 1981 [11]Jimmy Carter
(acting)Edward Brandt, Jr.May 14, 1981January 21, 1982Ronald Reagan
13VADM C. Everett KoopC. Everett Koop, 1980s.jpgJanuary 21, 1982October 1, 1989
(acting)ADM James O. MasonJames O. Mason.jpgOctober 1, 1989March 9, 1990George H. W. Bush
14VADM Antonia C. NovelloVADM Antonia Novello.jpgMarch 9, 1990June 30, 1993
(acting)RADM Robert A. WhitneyRADM Robert A Whitney Jr.jpgJuly 1, 1993September 8, 1993Bill Clinton
15VADM Joycelyn EldersJoycelyn Elders official photo portrait.jpgSeptember 8, 1993December 31, 1994
(acting)RADM Audrey F. ManleyAudrey Manley, DHHS official bw photo.jpgJanuary 1, 1995July 1, 1997
16ADM[8] / VADM David SatcherDavid Satcher official photo portrait.jpgFebruary 13, 1998February 12, 2002
(acting)RADM Kenneth P. MoritsuguKenneth P. Mortitsugu.jpgFebruary 13, 2002August 4, 2002George W. Bush
17VADM Richard CarmonaRichard carmona.jpgAugust 5, 2002July 31, 2006
(acting)RADM Kenneth P. MoritsuguKenneth P. Mortitsugu.jpgAugust 1, 2006September 30, 2007
RADM Steven K. GalsonSteven K Galson.jpgOctober 1, 2007October 1, 2009
RADM Donald L. WeaverDonald L. Weaver official portrait.jpgOctober 1, 2009November 3, 2009Barack Obama
18VADM Regina Benjamin[12]Regina Benjamin official portrait.jpgNovember 3, 2009[13]July 16, 2013
(acting)RADM Boris D. LushniakRADM Boris Lushniak acting Surgeon General.jpgJuly 17, 2013Barack Obama
19VADM Vivek Hallegere Murthy (Nominated)Barack Obama

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Public 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. ^ a b "Office of the Surgeon General, David Satcher (1998–2002)". U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. January 4, 2007. Retrieved January 22, 2009. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  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]