Dr. Vivek Murthy, 38
Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Hometown: Miami, FL
How did you get here?
My parents immigrated to the U.S. nearly 40 years ago, when I was a small child. They came from humble beginnings in search of a better life for their children.
My father is the son of a farmer in rural India. He was supposed to have been a farmer. I was supposed to be one too. But my grandfather insisted that my father get an education and start fixing what needed fixing in the world. My parents stopped in three other countries – including a brutal dictatorship – on their journey to get to the U.S. They saved up money and scrounged for information about job opportunities, always knowing that America was the destination. They knew that here – more than any other place in the world – we would be judged not by the color of our skin but by our ideas and willingness to work hard. And in Miami, they found a community of immigrants from all over the world who continue to hold on to that vision of America as an article of faith.
I am fully aware that in no other country in the world where the grandson of a farmer from India would be asked by the President to look after the health of the nation. That is the power and promise of the United States. I’m grateful for it, and I am committed to ensuring that such opportunity is available to more people.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career?
My family. I would not be the person I am today without my grandmother's faith, my father's strength, my mother's love, my sister's support and my wife’s unyielding belief in me.
My faith is also deeply important to me. It is an important source of strength and peace and reminds me daily of the importance of compassion and kindness.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during the Obama administration?
Being Surgeon General is an incredible honor and a great responsibility. My job is to inform and empower people to improve their own health and the health of their communities. My priorities have been centered around two core values: (1) creating a culture where we don’t just treat disease but try to prevent it in the first place; and (2) ensuring that the benefits of treatment and prevention are available to every person in America regardless of who they are, where they live, whom they love or when they got here. I believe prevention is the bedrock of a strong, healthy community. And I believe health equity is a civil right.
We’ve had a lot of successes since I took office 18 months ago. From partnering with Elmo from Sesame Street to educate the public on vaccine safety to publishing a Call To Action on walking and walkable communities and announcing the first-ever Surgeon General’s report on alcohol, drugs and health.
But I’m most proud that we have reached out and connected with millions of people in communities all across the country to have a real conversation about health. In this effort, we are also engaging sectors like transportation, housing, and urban design, and helping advance the understanding that everyone has a role to play in improving health in our country. One of my most important goals as Surgeon General is to ensure that my office is an accessible and reliable source of truth on the important health issues of our time. This will be a top priority for me for the remainder of my term.
Can you describe your time working for the Obama administration in 10 words?
Experience of a lifetime. I’m privileged and honored to serve.
Complete the sentence: “When I’m not working, I…”
…am spending time with my family, catching up with friends, meditating, and listening to inspiring speeches.