Vivek Murthy, America’s “top doctor” and an Obama appointee, was dismissed and replaced by the Trump administration on Friday.
In a statement, the administration said it asked Murthy to resign from his post as surgeon general after he helped with “a smooth transition.”
"Dr. Murthy has been relieved of his duties as Surgeon General and will continue to serve as a member of the Commissioned Corps," a White House statement read, adding that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price "thanks him for his dedicated service to the nation.”
The New York Times reported a somewhat different story: Murthy was asked to step down, refused, and was fired.
He’ll be replaced by Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams, a nurse who currently serves as deputy surgeon general. (In an acting role for now, she will be the first non-doctor to take the post of America’s “top doctor.”)
Murthy’s early departure came as a surprise to the public health community. It's unusual — but not unprecedented — for a surgeon general’s four-year term to be cut short. Murthy’s term should have run until the end of next year.
The surgeon general’s office is in charge of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a team of 6,700 public health workers stationed across the US. Although he or she has little power to change policy, surgeons general have a history of creating unwanted controversy for the political leadership, and raising awareness about sometimes inconvenient or uncomfortable facts about public health.
Murthy, a graduate of Harvard and Yale University schools of medicine and business, holds views on gun control that are at odds with those of the new administration. When President Obama nominated Murthy back in November 2013, the Senate blocked his nomination for more than a year, particularly after the National Rifle Association criticized a letter Murthy had co-signed in support of gun control measures.
Murthy only got confirmed in December 2014 after some red-state Democrats who were losing their seats anyway decided to switch course and back him.
Murthy was also a strong supporter of Obamacare. He co-founded Doctors for America in May 2009 — around the time the fight about the Affordable Care Act was heating up. “The country's main doctor trade group, the American Medical Association, remained neutral on the Affordable Care Act. In founding Doctors for America, Murthy says he saw an opportunity to organize the doctors who very much did support Obamacare,” Sarah Kliff reported.
Most recently, Murthy’s office came out with a report that included clear, evidence-based suggestions about what steps need to be taken to combat the opioid epidemic — but Murthy wasn’t tapped to join President Trump’s recently announced opioid commission.
For now, Murthy isn’t commenting on the details of his departure. In a statement on Facebook, he shared some of the lessons he learned on the job — reflecting the daily yogi’s usual outspoken concerns about well-being and kindness:
1. Kindness is more than a virtue. It is a source of strength. If we teach our children to be kind and remind each other of the same, we can live from a place of strength, not fear. I have seen this strength manifest every day in the words and actions of people all across our great nation. It is what gives me hope that we can heal during challenging times.
2. We will only be successful in addressing addiction – and other illnesses – when we recognize the humanity within each of us. People are more than their disease. All of us are more than our worst mistakes. We must ensure our nation always reflects a fundamental value: every life matters.
3. Healing happens when we are able to truly talk to and connect with each other. That means listening and understanding. It means assuming good, not the worst. It means pausing before we judge. Building a more connected America will require us to find new ways to talk to each other.
4. The world is locked in a struggle between love and fear. Choose love. Always. It is the world's oldest medicine. It is what we need to build a nation that is safe and strong for us and our children.