Richard Carmona, former surgeon general of the United States, spoke to a full auditorium Friday morning in the School of Public Health.
Carmona’s lecture focused on the intersection of public health, politics and his experience serving in the Bush Administration from 2002 to 2006. One of the main themes he discussed was the obstruction of important pieces of public health policy by special interests in Congress.
“The greatest plague I ever faced as surgeon general was not infections or terrorists, but politics,” Carmona said. “The plague of politics has its own morbidity and its own mortality.”
As surgeon general, Carmona issued a prominent report on the negative effects of secondhand smoke, and served in the federal government’s command center during Hurricane Katrina. He later testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, accusing the Bush administration of censoring his public health research because it did not align with its political stance.
During the talk, Carmona told anecdotes related to various public health issues, including Guantanamo Bay, tobacco, the AIDS epidemic and Hurricane Katrina. He said Washington politics hindered potential solutions to all of these challenges.
Carmona detailed how partisan politics and special interests influenced both the state and federal response to Hurricane Katrina.
“The system (in Katrina) broke down because of special interest politics,” Carmona said
He also warned against appointing surgeons general and other officials without backgrounds in public health.
“All clinical practitioners should be, first and foremost, public health practitioners,” he said. “As public health professionals, we deserve the most qualified person who merits the position, not the person who most aligns with a political party… “We must work to prevent the politicization of public health. I was not the doctor of the Republican or the Democratic Party; I was the doctor of the people of the United States.”
Charley Willison, a first-year doctoral student in Health Management and Policy, said Carmona’s comments were insightful.
“I appreciated his sharing his experiences and the importance of growing the network of public health as an authority to counteract politics and help to validate the credibility of these institutions,” Willison said.