President Donald Trump recently asked for Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy’s resignation. Slate wrote that Murthy had been well-known as an Obamacare supporter and advocate of gun control, saying that “gun violence [is] a public health issue.”
Afterward, a hubbub ensued over the resulting advancement of Deputy Surgeon General Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams to the position, even if only temporarily.
The criticism came despite the fact that in a Facebook post announcing his resignation, Murthy wrote that with Trent-Adams as acting surgeon general, the “nation is in capable and compassionate hands”:
Two years and four months ago, I was honored to be sworn in as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States. For the…
So why would anyone have a problem with a “capable and compassionate” black woman serving in the role of surgeon general?
Congratulations to Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams being appointed Acting @Surgeon_General
The first R.N. to be appointed to this position. pic.twitter.com/ci0tqdoQCX
— Thomas P Kennedy III ?? (@ThomasPKennedy3) April 22, 2017
For some, it is because she is a nurse:
— ABC News (@ABC) April 22, 2017
It was a forced resignation due to change of Administration. Replacement is good but a nurse, hopefully, this is temporary!
— Barnett Fung DPM, MS (@fung_barnett) April 22, 2017
It would seem this should be a position filled by a fully fledged physician not by a nurse
— jlw (@skepticaljlw) April 22, 2017
In the midst of the criticism, many were quick to point out a few things the critics were missing:
So it doesn't make any difference she has a Phd and is second in command to the surgeon general??? Hum are u just anti Trump??
— Oz (@GallOzbow) April 22, 2017
— lordofthelan (@lordothelan) April 22, 2017
you left the PhD out of this headline you should be ashamed ! Sick of the bias coverage.
— RED??RISING??? (@crestin1216) April 22, 2017
Ph.D, rear admiral, deputy surgeon general, nurse officer in the Army. But she's not really qualified right only because she's under Trump
— Kary Knight (@TOXIC_KAREBEAR) April 23, 2017
The role of surgeon general was first established in 1870, then known as “Supervising Surgeon,” and has undergone many changes since. According to SurgeonGeneral.gov, 1987 saw yet another change to the duties of the office:
In 1987, the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG) was reestablished as a staff office within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. Concomitant with this action, the Surgeon General again became responsible for management of the Commissioned Corps personnel system. (Note: The Surgeon General does not directly supervise all Commissioned Officers; most work in PHS or other agencies and report to line managers of those agencies who may or may not be in the Corps.)
In carrying out all responsibilities, the Surgeon General reports to the Assistant Secretary for Health, who is the principal advisor to the Secretary on public health and scientific issues.
ABC 10 News was quick to point out that being a physician is not a requirement of the Office of the Surgeon General.
According to Yahoo Beauty, Trent-Adams is well-qualified to serve in the position, having 24 years of experience working with the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS). Additionally, she has been a U.S. Army nurse officer and obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. This makes it appropriate to also call her “Dr.”
Trent-Adams joins three other women who have had the distinction of holding the Office of Surgeon General.
The first woman to become surgeon general was Antonia C. Novello. Appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, she was also the first Hispanic to hold the title, according to SurgeonGeneral.gov.
— Lake Nona Institute (@LN_Institute) February 17, 2017
Novello’s successor was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and became the second woman to hold the office. M. Joycelyn Elders had previously been appointed by Clinton while he was the governor of Arkansas to Director of the Arkansas Department of Health.
— Rhonda Rogombé (@RhonniRogo) February 18, 2017
In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed another woman to surgeon general. During her four-year term, Regina M. Benjamin also served as the first chair of the National Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health Council (National Prevention Council).
Regina M. Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A., was appointed by President Barack Obama as the 18th United States Surgeon General in July, 2009. pic.twitter.com/Wt8LtmN0BY
— supernerdychurchgirl (@supernerdycg) February 16, 2017
Although he was a physician, former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002, was also previously a nurse, something he was publicly very proud of having in his credentials, according to a keynote address he gave in 2005. He stated that his nursing experience was one of the reasons Bush appointed him.
There is no word yet as to whether Trent-Adams will retain the Office of Surgeon General or be replaced.