Surgeon General of the United States

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Surgeon General of the
United States
United States Public Health Service (seal).svg
Seal of the United States Public Health Service, 1798
Flag of the United States Surgeon General.svg
Flag of the United States Surgeon General
Vice Adm. Jerome M. Adams (2).jpg
Jerome Adams

since September 5, 2017
Public Health Service
Public Health Service, Commissioned Corps
Reports to Assistant Secretary for Health
Seat Hubert H. Humphrey Building, United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Washington, D.C.
AppointerThe President
with United States Senate advice and consent
Term length 4 years
FormationMarch 29, 1871
First holder John M. Woodworth (as Supervising Surgeon)

The Surgeon General of the United States is the operational head of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC) and thus the leading spokesperson on matters of public health in the federal government of the United States. The Surgeon General's office and staff are known as the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG) which is housed within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. [1]


The U.S. Surgeon General is nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. The Surgeon General must be appointed from individuals who (1) are members of the Regular Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, and (2) have specialized training or significant experience in public health programs. [2] The Surgeon General serves a four-year term of office and, depending on whether the current Assistant Secretary for Health is a Public Health Service commissioned officer, is either the senior or next most senior uniformed officer of the commissioned corps, holding the rank of a vice admiral. [3] [4] The current Surgeon General is Jerome Adams, having taken office on September 5, 2017. [5]


Seal of the U.S. Public Health Service, 1798 PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE LOGO.PNG
Seal of the U.S. Public Health Service, 1798

The Surgeon General reports to the Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH), who may be a four-star admiral in the commissioned corps, and who serves as the principal adviser to the Secretary of Health and Human Services on public health and scientific issues. The Surgeon General is the overall head of the Commissioned Corps, a 6,500-member cadre of uniformed health professionals who are on call 24 hours a day, and can be dispatched by the Secretary of HHS or the Assistant Secretary for Health in the event of a public health emergency.

The Surgeon General is also the ultimate award authority for several public health awards and decorations, the highest of which that can be directly awarded is the Surgeon General's Medallion (the highest award bestowed by board action is the Public Health Service Distinguished Service Medal). The Surgeon General also has many informal duties, such as educating the American public about health issues and advocating healthy lifestyle choices.

The office also periodically issues health warnings. Perhaps the best known example of this is the Surgeon General's warning label that has been present on all packages of American tobacco cigarettes since 1966. [6] A similar health warning has appeared on alcoholic beverages labels since 1988. [7]


US Public Health Service Collar Device PHSCC Collar Device.png
US Public Health Service Collar Device
US Public Health Service Cap Device CAP DEVICE UNMOUNTED PHS.PNG
US Public Health Service Cap Device

In 1798, Congress established the Marine Hospital Fund, a network of hospitals that cared for sick and disabled seamen. The Marine Hospital Fund was reorganized along military lines in 1870 and became the Marine Hospital Service—predecessor to today’s United States Public Health Service. The service became a separate bureau of the Treasury Department with its own staff, administration, headquarters in Washington, D.C, and the position of Supervising Surgeon (later Surgeon General). [8]

After 141 years under the Treasury Department, the Service came under the Federal Security Agency in 1939, then the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) in 1953, and finally the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Some Surgeons General are notable for being outspoken and/or advocating controversial proposals on how to reform the U.S. health system.[ citation needed ] The office is not a particularly powerful one, and has little direct statutory impact on policy-making, but Surgeons General are often vocal advocates of precedent-setting, far-sighted, unconventional, or even unpopular health policies.

The U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force also have officers overseeing medical matters in their respective services who hold the title Surgeon General.

The insignia of the Surgeon General, and the USPHS, use the caduceus as opposed to the Rod of Asclepius.

Service Rank

The stars, shoulder boards, and sleeve stripes of the Surgeon General US PHS O9 insignia.svg
The stars, shoulder boards, and sleeve stripes of the Surgeon General

The Surgeon General is a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and by law holds the rank of vice admiral. [3] Officers of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps are classified as non-combatants, but can be subjected to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the Geneva Conventions when designated by the Commander-in-Chief as a military force or if they are detailed or assigned to work with the armed forces. Officer members of these services wear uniforms that are similar to those worn by the United States Navy, except that the commissioning devices, buttons, and insignia are unique. Officers in the U.S. Public Health Service wear unique devices that are similar to U.S. Navy, Staff Corps Officers (e.g., Navy Medical Service Corps, Supply Corps, etc.).

The only Surgeon General to actually hold the rank of a four-star admiral was David Satcher (born 1941, served 1998–2002). This was because he served simultaneously in the positions of Surgeon General (three-star) and Assistant Secretary for Health (which is a four-star office). [14] John Maynard Woodworth (1837–1879, served 1871–1879), the first holder of the office as "Supervising Surgeon", is the only Surgeon General to not hold a rank.

Previous Surgeons General of the United States

PhotoTerm of officeAppointed by
Start of termEnd of term
1 John M. Woodworth
John Maynard Woodworth by Hermann Günther, 1865.jpg March 29, 1871March 14, 1879 Ulysses S. Grant
2 RADM John B. Hamilton
John B Hamilton.jpg April 3, 1879June 1, 1891 Rutherford B. Hayes
President Rutherford Hayes 1870 - 1880.jpg
3RADM Walter Wyman
Walter Wyman, photograph by Stalee.jpg June 1, 1891November 21, 1911 Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison, head and shoulders bw photo, 1896.jpg
4RADM Rupert Blue
Rupert Blue.jpg January 13, 1912March 3, 1920 William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft.jpg
5RADM Hugh S. Cumming
Hugh S Cumming.gif March 3, 1920January 31, 1936 Woodrow Wilson
President Woodrow Wilson portrait December 2 1912.jpg
6RADM Thomas Parran, Jr.
Thomas Parran, Jr., photo portrait as surgeon general.jpg April 6, 1936April 6, 1948 Franklin D. Roosevelt
FDR in 1933.jpg
7RADM Leonard A. Scheele
Leonard Scheele, photo portrait as surgeon general.jpg April 6, 1948August 8, 1956 Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman.jpg
8RADM Leroy Edgar Burney
Leroy Edgar Burney, photo portrait as surgeon general.jpg August 8, 1956January 29, 1961 Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower, official photo portrait, May 29, 1959.jpg
9RADM Luther Terry
Luther Terry photo portrait as surgeon general.jpg March 2, 1961October 1, 1965 John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy, White House photo portrait, looking up.jpg
10 VADM William H. Stewart
William H. Stewart, photo portrait as surgeon general.jpg October 1, 1965August 1, 1969 Lyndon B. Johnson
37 Lyndon Johnson 3x4.jpg
N/ARADM Richard A. Prindle
(c. 1926–2001)
Acting Surgeon General
August 1, 1969December 18, 1969 [15] [16] Richard Nixon
Richard M. Nixon, ca. 1935 - 1982 - NARA - 530679.jpg
11RADM Jesse Leonard Steinfeld
Jesse Leonard Steinfeld, photo portrait as surgeon general.jpg December 18, 1969 [17] January 30, 1973 [18]
N/ARADM S. Paul Ehrlich, Jr.
Acting Surgeon General
January 31, 1973 [19] July 13, 1977
12VADM Julius B. Richmond
Julius Richmond, Surgeon General official photo.jpg July 13, 1977January 20, 1981 [20] Jimmy Carter
Carter cropped.jpg
N/ARADM John C. Greene
Acting Surgeon General
1980 John C Greene in Official United States Rear Admiral Uniform.jpg January 21, 1981May 14, 1981 Ronald Reagan
Official Portrait of President Reagan 1981-cropped.jpg
N/A Edward Brandt, Jr.
Acting Surgeon General
May 14, 1981January 21, 1982
13VADM C. Everett Koop
C. Everett Koop, 1980s.jpg January 21, 1982October 1, 1989
N/A ADM James O. Mason
Acting Surgeon General
James O. Mason.jpg October 1, 1989March 9, 1990 George H. W. Bush
1992 Bush.jpg
14VADM Antonia C. Novello
VADM Antonia Novello.jpg March 9, 1990June 30, 1993
N/ARADM Robert A. Whitney
Acting Surgeon General
RADM Robert A Whitney Jr.jpg July 1, 1993September 8, 1993 Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton.jpg
15VADM Joycelyn Elders
Joycelyn Elders official photo portrait.jpg September 8, 1993December 31, 1994
N/ARADM Audrey F. Manley
Acting Surgeon General
Audrey Manley, DHHS official bw photo.jpg January 1, 1995July 1, 1997
16ADM [14] / VADM David Satcher
David Satcher official photo portrait.jpg February 13, 1998February 12, 2002
N/ARADM Kenneth P. Moritsugu
Acting Surgeon General
RADM Kenneth P. Moritsugu, USPHSCC.jpg February 13, 2002August 4, 2002 George W. Bush
17VADM Richard Carmona
Richard carmona.jpg August 5, 2002July 31, 2006
N/ARADM Kenneth P. Moritsugu
Acting Surgeon General
RADM Kenneth P. Moritsugu, USPHSCC.jpg August 1, 2006September 30, 2007
RADM Steven K. Galson
Acting Surgeon General
Steven K Galson.jpg October 1, 2007October 1, 2009
RADM Donald L. Weaver
Acting Surgeon General
Donald L. Weaver official portrait.jpg October 1, 2009November 3, 2009 Barack Obama
Obama portrait crop.jpg
18VADM Regina Benjamin [21]
Regina Benjamin official portrait.jpg November 3, 2009 [22] July 16, 2013
N/ARADM Boris D. Lushniak
Acting Surgeon General
RADM Boris Lushniak acting Surgeon General.jpg July 17, 2013December 18, 2014
19VADM Vivek Murthy
Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, USPHS.jpg December 18, 2014April 21, 2017
N/ARADM Sylvia Trent-Adams
Acting Surgeon General
Sylvia Trent-Adams Official Portrait.jpg April 21, 2017September 5, 2017 Donald Trump
Official Portrait of President Donald Trump (cropped).jpg
20VADM Jerome Adams
Vice Adm. Jerome M. Adams (2).jpg September 5, 2017Incumbent

See also


  1. (ASPA), Digital Communications Division (DCD), Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (2008-10-24). "OASH Organization Chart". Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  2. 42 USC 205. Appointment and tenure of office of Surgeon General; reversion in rank.
  3. 1 2 42 USC 207. Grades, ranks, and titles of commissioned corps.
  4. "Public Health, Commissioned Corps Uniforms and Ranks". Archived from the original on 2008-05-13.
  5. "Dr. Jerome Adams sworn in as U.S. Surgeon General". 5 September 2017.
  6. "Public Health Information | R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company". R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Retrieved 2017-08-16.
  7. "Legislation". Retrieved 2017-08-16.
  8. (OSG), Office of the Surgeon General. "About the Office of the Surgeon General".
  9. Julie M. Fenster Archived 2008-08-28 at the Wayback Machine "Hazardous to Your Health" American Heritage, Oct. 2006.
  10. Joel Spitzer. The Surgeon General says... Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  11. Winn, Mari (October 9, 1988). "The Legacy of Dr. Koop". The New York Times.
  12. Leon Dash, "Joycelyn Elders: From Sharecropper's Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States of America", Washington Monthly, January–February 1997
  13. Dreifus;, Claudia (9 March 1994). "Joycelyn Elders" via
  14. 1 2 "David Satcher (1998–2002)". U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. January 4, 2007. Retrieved January 22, 2009.
  15. "House Panel Bids U.S. Study Marijuana's Use and Effects". New York Times. Associated Press. September 7, 1969. p. 62. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  16. Zielinski, Graeme (September 15, 2001). "Public Health Researcher Richard Prindle Dies". Washington Post. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  17. "Washington: For the Record – December 18, 1969". New York Times. December 19, 1969. p. 7. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  18. "Jesse Leonard Steinfeld (1969–1973)". 2007-01-04. Retrieved 2014-04-29.
  19. Office, U.S. Government Accountability (27 August 1974). ": Need for More Effective Management of Community Mental Health Centers Program" (B-164031(5)).
  20. "HHS Secretaries – National Institutes of Health (NIH)". Archived from the original on 2008-09-24. Retrieved 2014-04-29.
  21. "Obama picks Regina Benjamin as surgeon general". Reuters. July 13, 2009.
  22. Stobbe, Mike (December 3, 2009). "Surgeon general: More minority doctors needed". WTOP. Retrieved December 5, 2009.