Obama finds surgeon general on TV
Last updated 1-8-09 at 1:12 p.m.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta
By Lauren Neergaard
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Barack Obama’s reported
choice for surgeon general, CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta,
could bring a dose of star power to a job that hasn’t had that
much clout in decades.
Gupta doesn’t just play a doctor on TV, he’s a neurosurgeon
who still scrubs in part time in one of the nation’s toughest
hospitals when he’s not on CNN assignments that have taken
him from Hurricane Katrina to Iraq.
He has also co-hosted a health network that beams feel-good advice
on TVs in clinic waiting rooms around the country — one that
has drawn some criticism for drug-company promotion.
The surgeon general doesn’t set health policy — but
the office can be an effective bully pulpit.
Past surgeon generals pushed the nation to fight
tobacco and AIDS. Having such a well-known TV personality
could give the post a reach not seen since the renowned
C. Everett Koop, who served under President Ronald Reagan and helped
make AIDS a public health issue rather than a moral one — in
an era before the 24/7 news cycle.
With the celebrity behind Gupta’s medical credentials, “it’s
like a name-brand immediately,” said Dr. Michael Johns, the
chancellor at Emory University in Atlanta, where
Gupta, 39, is an assistant professor of neurosurgery.
And in contrast to the grandfatherly Koop, People
magazine named Gupta as one of the ‘sexiest men of 2003.
However, a surgeon general would “need to demonstrate skills
that are too often missing in medical news on TV: skepticism about
the science and a careful analysis of both the benefits and harms
of medical care,” said Drs. Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin
of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and
CNN said Obama had approached Gupta about the job
but said he would not comment on the discussions.
“Since first learning that Dr. Gupta was under consideration
for the surgeon general position, CNN has made sure that his on-air
reporting has been on health and wellness matters and not on health
care policy or any matters involving the new administration," the
cable network said Jan. 6.
Two Democrats with knowledge of the discussions over
the surgeon general spot said Gupta was under consideration but
cautioned a choice has not been made. They spoke on condition of
anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media
on the matter.
Obama’s transition office did not immediately respond to AP’s
requests for comment.
To take the job, Gupta would have to give up a lucrative
media-and-medical empire. Gupta hosts “House Call” on
CNN, contributes reports to CBS News, and writes a column for Time
magazine, as well as operating and overseeing residents part time
at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital, known for its trauma
During the Clinton administration, Gupta was a White
House fellow and special adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Gupta grew up in the Detroit area, the son of parents
who moved from India in the 1960s to work at a Ford
plant. He earned undergraduate and medical degrees
from the University of Michigan.