Physicians

Dr. George Lundberg for Surgeon General

The report that Mr. Obama’s Surgeon General choice might be neurosurgeon and CNN medical  correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta produced an upwelling of strong opinion, particularly in the medical community. Some argued that Dr. Gupta has clearly demonstrated his abilities as an able communicator.

But others said that Gupta lacks the experience, seriousness and focus on public health. (I can’t help thinking that anyone who has achieved working neurosurgeon and national TV commentator status is pretty capable and serious, demeanor notwithstanding.)

And so it is that on Facebook, that Dr. Richard Lippin, a longtime Preventive Medicine physician based in Pennsylvania, has posted a letter he sent to President Obama and Secretary Daschle, urging the consideration of Dr. George Lundberg for Surgeon General.

The header reads: “We need a physician with the gravitas and the moral credentials and authority to use this bully pulpit position to speak for science and values based priority public health issues for all Americans. Dr. George Lundberg fits the bill.”Picture 1

The letter provides a brief bio of Dr. Lundberg, the brilliantly eclectic, progressive, Alabama-born, down-to-earth physician who has been a visible mainstay of American medicine for decades. Dr. Lippin doesn’t mention Dr. Lundberg’s landmark 2002 book on American health care and reform, Severed Trust. (The title alone provides a lot of insight into Dr. Lundberg’s view of the world.)

But Dr. Lippin does believe the Surgeon General choice is about healing both America and American medicine, He writes, “we have a genuine crisis on many levels in US Medicine. Also we need desperately for the medical profession to regain its moral and ethical foundations and furthermore we also need medical leaders who must regain the trust of the American Public which has been dangerously eroded.

I agree with Dr. Lippin that those are the tasks, and I agree that Dr. Lundberg is a terrifically suitable candidate. Over many years, I have developed a warm friendship with him. It is impossible to not be bowled over by his range and grasp of issues, and by his unswerving willingness to stand clearly and openly for approaches that are tied to evidence and reason. The ultimate critical thinker, his judgments are founded most closely to merit, possibility and an unshakable belief in the correctness of the pursuit of excellence in health.

He is also bold and politically savvy. You don’t become the longest running Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association (until he got politically at odds with them) and then build Medscape into the most widely read Web resource for clinicians worldwide unless you can continuously strike the delicate balances between science, sensibility and moral imperatives among your peers.

I can’t say whether Dr. Lundberg would be the best candidate for the job ahead. He has a huge following in the medical community, nationally and worldwide, the result of many, many years of consistently high performance infused with unassailable integrity. Whether he’s the right person for this moment is another issue, though, fraught with the complexities of political consideration, a vision consistent with the larger plan of the Obama team, fluency with the bewildering array of new technologies that are changing the face of medicine and the patient-physician relationship, and so on.

But Dr. Lippin makes an important point. American medicine is demoralized in the field. Overt, rampant financial conflict has caused many to believe that the profession has lost its compass. With that loss, the trust of patients and the authority that trust conveys have also diminished.

Restoring that trust and authority isn’t simply a matter of leadership or preaching, but will depend on fundamentally changing the business of medicine, a much larger task indeed that will require an orchestrated effort by all of us, not just physicians.

But the new Surgeon General, whoever he or she is, should be grounded first in science, evidence and best practice, in tirelessly advocating and maneuvering for a care delivery system that is as advanced and nuanced as the diagnostic and treatment approaches we’ve developed, and on advancing the health of ALL our people in ways that leverage rather than squander increasingly precious resources.

While there is no question that Dr. Lundberg is worthy, I’d be surprised if the call for his consideration is heard in the din of this transition. Even so, it is deeply gratifying to see an outpouring of support by his peers, the result of successfully dedicating his life to advancing medical knowledge and its best application.

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DoctorK Walshpaul corrao, M.D.A. SpolarichIngrid Kohlstadt, MD, MPH Recent comment authors
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Doctor
Guest

This is an very nice post.

K Walsh
Guest
K Walsh

Dr. Lundberg gets my vote. While Gupta is perhaps okay as a TV personality, he does not have the qualifications to serve in the role of Surgeon General of the US. There are major concerns. 1. As a media figure, Gupta has been disturbingly cozy with Big Pharma. He co-hosts Turner Private Networks’ monthly show “Accent Health,” which airs in doctors’ offices around the country and which serves as a major conduit for targeted ads from the drug companies. 2. He has openly opposed progressive health reform, and cited false information in an effort to discredit Michael Moore’s film “Sicko”.… Read more »

paul corrao, M.D.
Guest
paul corrao, M.D.

I trained under Dr. Lundberg, have observed his career over the years, and kept in touch with him as well. Quite frankly for the critical need of reform in American medicine, I think he is the best qualified candidate by far, and he does have other qualifications to recommend him as well, which others have covered well here. But I wish to point out his accessibility, his military experience, and his seniority in the medical profession- all of which render him, in my opinion, more acceptable and qualified for the position than any other candidate. We all know there may… Read more »

A. Spolarich
Guest
A. Spolarich

I also know and admire Dr. Lundberg. I authored at article for JAMA while he was there and found his integrity to be beyond repute, as well as his smarts. He is definitely down-to-earth, yet so smart that he can handle the agencies as well as the potential crises we face, such as a potential flu pandemic. He gets my vote. As a footnote, I also worked for two other Surgeons General, Koop and Novello. I have a little experience knowing which are good, independent and right for the job and which are not. Spolarich.

Ingrid Kohlstadt, MD, MPH
Guest
Ingrid Kohlstadt, MD, MPH

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein
Our next surgeon general will need to understand medicine in all of its complexities and translate the knowledge into practical decisions, not simplistic ones.
I know who I would choose, by George!

Dr. Rick Lippin
Guest

John Irvine-
I understand the consraints of a blog like yours widely endorsing candidates for leadership roles.
Respectfully though, Sanjay Gupta is not at all the “out of the box” candidate for US Surgeon General
In fact Gupta is intimately tied to much of what is wrong with the status quo in contemporary mainstream US organized medicine.
He is the wrong choice for our times which desperately calls for a return to integrity and distancing ourselves from the excesses of the influence of the profit motive on the “former” profession of Medicine
Sincerely,
Dr. Rick Lippin
Southampton,Pa

Megan Antonelli
Guest
Megan Antonelli

I had the opportunity to work for Dr. Lundberg at Medscape. He is a thoughtful, pragmatic leader who is vastly more qualified for Surgeon General that Dr. Gupta. While Dr. Gupta is a clearly an intelligent charismatic communicator this country needs a leader with a deep commitment to the integrity of America’s health care delivery system. Dr. Lundberg’s thoughtfulness, deep understanding, and lifetime of experience makes him the clear choice for Surgeon General. In addition to voicing your support online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/ you can also join the “George Lundberg for Surgeon General” group on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/group.php?gid=45444711924&ref=mf. 179 members and… Read more »

Matthew Holt
Guest

I think Dr Sanjay Gupta is perfect for the job of Surgeon General..He is smart and has been before the public in many areanas…and has spoken up on maintaining good health before the Public…Look around your Medical Community…let’s be fair some of you are biased and we know why…Let the Groundswell for Dr Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General fill the air…Hold on to your hats…..
Janice S. Wong R.N

Matthew Holt
Guest

George – You’d be surprised to know how large the cave you’re standing in actually is. And who is standing in the dark with you in it at this very moment. We haven’t set up a auto-email bombing because we have not officially endorsed Dr. Lundberg as a candidate. Brian’s piece reflects his personal view. I tend to agree with Bill Crounse MD. Both candidates have appealing qualities that recommend them for the post. Dr. Lundberg clearly passes the gravitas test. Dr. Gupta is an outside of the box selection, but I’m not sure that should necessarily disqualify him for… Read more »

George  Lakehomer
Guest
George Lakehomer

Why hasn’t THCB set up an auto-generating letter site or link to send letters to our senators or provided easy information for us quickly email them on this important issue.
It’s clear that Dr. Lundberg, or someone of equal stature, is vital to our individual and collective health in myriad ways.
Blogging here is like screaming into a small cave.

Dr. Elena Katazkos
Guest
Dr. Elena Katazkos

I am on the fence with this one. As a CRNA with a PhD in Biology, I am a huge fan of Dr. Gupta. In the world that we live in today, embracing our first African American President, I believe that Dr. Gupta stands the unity of races. I will agree that Dr. George Lundberg would make an excellent Surgeon General, however the personality of Dr. Sanjay Gupta is extrodinary. He manages to catch even the modest physicians attention and locks us in with his charm, knowledge and demeanor. He speaks to us and not at us. We are living… Read more »

Bill Crounse, MD
Guest

Dr. George Lundberg would be a terrific Surgeon General. He is not only an icon of our industry, but a very nice man. It was my pleasure to work with him from time to time during years of anchoring television programs and specials for Lifetime Medical Television and also for the AMA. He’s a class act. I can also say that, having been a physician broadcaster for much of my career, Dr. Sanjay Gupta has managed to do a first-rate job balancing journalistic integrity with the ratings-driven demands of television. Each candidate would bring unique strengths to the position of… Read more »

Mindy Roberts
Guest

Disclosure: I am Dr. Lundberg’s stepdaughter. I have watched my stepfather’s career from the inside for over twenty-five years, and can say that everything that has been said about his professional life carries over to his personal life (not that I will say more about his personal life. I still want to be invited to dinner.). He is, bar none, the best role model for anyone who cares about the nation’s health care, or for their own. He has integrity, a very long view, an infallible moral compass, and an ability to look at matters objectively and see a solution… Read more »

Maggie Mahar
Guest

I vote for Dr. Lundberg–who I know, admire and trust. I am troubled by Dr. Gupta’s nomination because I have heard him promote products or treatments on television while ignoring the best medical evidence. In other words, he misinforms the public–without hinting that he is contradicting current best practice guidelines. There are disturbing ties to Pharma which suggest conflict of interest. Professor Gary Schwitzer of the University of Minnesots’s Journalism school documents many of these incidents on his excellent blog “Health News Review.” Go to this link http://blog.lib.umn.edu/schwitz/healthnews/161649.html and you will find links to all of the posts listed below… Read more »

Brian Klepper
Guest

Dr. Pandey,
This post was in no way intended to be critical of Dr. Gupta. While I don’t know him personally, he certainly appears to be an extremely capable and well-intentioned individual.
Instead, I was trying to frame my understanding of the circumstance within the context of support for Dr. Lundberg, who has been a good friend for many years.
There is no reason to read anything beyond that into the column.
Thanks.