Why Surgeon General Vivek Murthy Focuses on Preventing Illness
Industry Perspective Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, the youngest appointed U.S. Surgeon General in modern times, shares the inspiration behind his career in medicine and what fuels his commitment to a healthier nation.
Dr. Vivek H. Murthy was inspired to practice medicine at an early age by his father, who was also a doctor.
“Early on I learned that medicine is about more than making diagnoses and prescribing medicine,” he states. “It is about building relationships with people; relationships that are based on trust and mutual understanding.”
In 2014, Murthy was sworn in as the 19th United States Surgeon General and is the first Indian American to be appointed to this coveted medical post. As “America’s Doctor,” he is responsible for communicating the best available information to the public regarding ways to improve personal and public health.
Murthy also oversees the operations of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, comprised of more than 6,700 health officers who serve in nearly 800 locations around the world. Their mission? Promoting, protecting and advancing the health of the country.
Heading off illness
According to the CDC, America spends significantly more on health care than any other nation, yet the average life expectancy is far below many other nations that spend less on health care each year. Dr. Murthy believes that the key to achieving better health care outcomes lies in prevention.
“As a doctor, I recognize that our country does a pretty good job when it comes to treating illness, but we spend relatively few resources, and little time, focused on how to prevent that illness,” he shares.
Prevention focuses on activities that encourage healthy living in an effort to limit the onset of chronic diseases. Prevention also includes early detection efforts, such as screening at-risk populations, as well as plans for management of existing conditions. Murthy believes that building a foundation of prevention means zeroing in on three key pillars: physical activity, good nutrition and emotional well-being.
“We have spent relatively little effort and attention on emotional well-being, which is a vital and often underappreciated pillar when it comes to improving health,” he urges.
According to a study by Edelman Wellness 360, consumers prioritize emotional health over physical, yet 63 percent lack clarity on how to achieve emotional well-being, like relieving stress and increasing self-esteem.
Access for all
When he’s not advocating for a prevention-based approach to wellness, he is using his influence to promote equity of access to health care for all people. Disparities in income, education, housing, race, gender and geography all effect the quality of care a citizen can access.
“We are one of the richest countries in the world, but we have such a wide disparity in terms of access to care and health care outcomes,” Murthy explains.
Murthy believes that when it comes to a healthier future, everyone can do their part by adopting healthier behaviors.
“In the United States, less than fifty percent of adults get their required physical activity each day and only about a quarter of high school students get their required activity each day,” he outlines. “If we can incorporate healthy living into our own lives, we will not only be healthier ourselves, but we will set a good example for the other people in our lives.”