5 Duties of the Surgeon General

Wikipedia describes the United States Surgeon General as the “leading spokesperson on matters of public health in the federal government.” The office dates back to the establishment of the Marine Hospital Fund in 1798, and today the surgeon general serves a four-year term that involves important duties relating to public health and safety.

Head of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS)

The USPHS is a body of over 6,000 uniformed health professionals who work for the federal government to promote and protect public health. These officers must always be ready for deployment in the event of a health crisis. As a vice admiral in the USPHS, the Surgeon General is responsible for determining if such a deployment is necessary. In a world where both epidemics and biological warfare are real concerns, this duty of the Surgeon General is of vital importance to the health of the nation.

Promotes National Health and Wellness

Health gimmicks fly at the public from every direction, but the Surgeon General is responsible for making sure that the information coming down from the federal government is founded on the latest scientific research. Recommendations include diet and lifestyle habits that promote health and reduce the risk of disease. The establishment of the Affordable Care Act made the Surgeon General chair of the National Prevention Council, a responsibility that’s best taken on by a doctor who can interpret research and apply it to the creation of national health policies.

Related reading: What is a Wellness Coordinator in Health Science?

Warns and Protects the Public

The Surgeon General’s warning label appears on products such as cigarettes and alcohol that may pose health risks when consumed. It’s the job of the Surgeon General to alert consumers to these and other potential health hazards that may be present in commonly used products. Some FDA investigators are members of the USPHS and perform testing and sampling under the direction of the Surgeon General. These investigators are part of the teams that determine whether or not it’s necessary to prompt product recalls in response to contamination that could cause illness.

Presents Public Health Awards

Many public health awards are issued by the USPHS, and the Surgeon General oversees this process. Awards include high honors such as the Surgeon General’s Medallion and are given to individuals or units displaying excellent performance in various sectors of public health. These awards recognize displays of dedication and single out those who are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to protect the public from health risks. There are also many service and campaign awards issued to highlight specific achievements. USPHS members are entitled to display all awards on their uniforms.

Serves as a Representative

Various health groups and organizations benefit from the insight of the Surgeon General. Depending on the current state of health in the nation and the world, the Surgeon General may be a representative or advisor to the American Medical Association, the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States or the World Health Organization. Working with these groups requires a great deal of insight into medicine and public health. Diplomacy is also an important skill, as is the ability to speak up and advocate for policies that will help preserve health on a national and international scale.

To become the Surgeon General, an individual must be nominated by the President of the United States and have this nomination confirmed by the Supreme Court. Those with a strong grasp of issues relating to public health, good diplomatic and communication skills and a background in medicine are good candidates for this demanding, rewarding position.