Fort Myer, Virginia – Vivek Murthy became the highest ranking official of Indian origin in the Obama Administration when the 37-year-old was sworn-in as the 19th US Surgeon General by Vice President Joe Biden at a ceremony in the glittering environs of Conmy Hall, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Fort Myer, Virginia on April 22.
Murthy, who took the oath on the Indian Holy book “Gita” in the presence of his family, also became the youngest-ever in-charge of the country’s public health. As the US Surgeon General, Murthy carries the rank of Vice Admiral.
A visibly moved Murthy thanked his family for nurturing him and President Barack Obama for giving him the opportunity, saying, “To have the opportunity to serve as Surgeon General is an extraordinary honor and a profound responsibility, and I want to thank President Obama for entrusting me with the stewardship of this office.”
Addressing a select audience of invited guests including Vice President Biden and Health Secretary Sylvia Burwell, the Surgeon General said, “I am who I am because of my grandmother’s faith, my father’s strength, my mother’s love, my sister’s support and my fiancee’s unyielding belief in me. I am blessed to have all of them here with me today. I will always be grateful to them for the sacrifices they have made.”
Vice President Biden in his comments said Murthy is “eminently qualified for the job,” describing his family as “incredible” in particular his grandmother who was also present.
Going down memory lane Murthy said, “My family was never supposed to have left our ancestral village. My father is the son of a farmer in rural India. He was supposed to have been a farmer, as was I. But for my grandfather’s insistence that his son get an education – even if that meant going into debt – we might have never left that village to go out in the world and – as my grandfather also insisted – start fixing what needed fixing.”
With his parents, his fiancee, sister, grandmother and an uncle in the audience, Murthy said, “We were not supposed to have become Americans. My parents stopped in three other countries – including a brutal dictatorship – on their journey to get here. They saved up money and scrounged for information about job opportunities, always knowing that America was the destination.”
“Combating misinformation, shifting to a culture of prevention and changing behaviors that are keeping us from our best health – these are the challenges that I want us to tackle,” stressed the Surgeon General in his speech.
Outlining his policy after taking the oath of office, Murthy vowed to improve the public health and shift the attention from one that is predominantly focused on treatment to one that is focused much more on prevention.
“Today in America, who you are, where you come from and whom you love plays too big a role in determining your health. Being poor – which affects one in five children – is too great a factor in determining who is healthy and who is not. In a nation as great as ours – a nation that my parents crossed oceans and borders to reach – that is unacceptable,” said Murthy.
“Public health does not exist in a vacuum. It is intrinsically linked to education, employment, the environment and our economy. There is a whole world beyond hospital corridors and clinic waiting rooms where people are struggling with issues of transportation, housing and development,” he said.
“Being there at the ceremony, it was an emotional, inspiring and surreal feeling,” said Dr. Suresh K. Gupta, Vice Chair, Maryland State Board of Physicians. “I could feel and experience, in the true sense, America the ‘land of opportunities.”
The Senate last December confirmed Murthy’s nomination by 51 votes to 43 more than year after President Barack Obama had nominated him to this top administration post on public health issues in November 2013 which saw a strong opposition from the powerful pro-gun lobby National Rifle Association (NRA).