The Surgeon General of the United States is the head of the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC) and thus the leading spokesperson on matters of public health in the U.S. government. The Surgeon General's office and staff are known as the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG).
The former Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Richard Carmona, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002, left office when his term expired on July 31, 2006. Rear Admiral Steven K. Galson is functioning as the Acting Surgeon General.
The Surgeon General functions under the direction of the Assistant Secretary for Health and operationally heads the 6,000-member Commissioned Corps of the USPHS, a cadre of 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 Medal (the highest award bestowed by board action is the Distinguished Service Medal).
The office also periodically issues health warnings. Perhaps the best known example of this is the Surgeon General's Warning labels that can be found on all packages of American cigarettes. A health warning also appears on alcoholic beverages.
Past American Surgeons General have often been characterized by their outspoken personalities and often controversial proposals on how to reform the U.S. health system. Because the office is not a particularly powerful one, and has little direct impact on policy-making, Surgeons General are often vocal advocates of unconventional, unusual, or even unpopular (albeit rational) health policies. Vice Admiral C. Everett Koop and Vice Admiral Joycelyn Elders were two former Surgeons General who were well known for their controversial ideas, especially on sex education. The controversy which frequently surrounds Surgeons General for their politically explosive comments may explain why the position has fallen into disfavor in the George W. Bush administration, and remains untenanted since August 2006.
In 1798, Congress established the Marine Hospital Service—predecessor to today’s United States Public Health Service—to provide health care to sick and injured merchant seamen. In 1870, the Marine Hospital Service was reorganized as a national hospital system with centralized administration under a medical officer, the Supervising Surgeon, who was later given the title of Surgeon General.
The U.S. Public Health Service was under the direction of the Office of the Surgeon General and was an independent government agency until 1953 at which point it was integrated into the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and later into the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Although the U.S. Public Health Service and the Surgeon General were at various times under the umbrella of the Department of the Treasury or the Federal Security Agency, the agency operated with a substantial amount of independence.
|#||Name||Term of Office||Appointed by|
|1||John Maynard Woodworth||March 29, 1871||March 14, 1879||Ulysses S. Grant|
|2||RADM John B. Hamilton||April 3, 1879||June 1, 1891||Rutherford B. Hayes|
|3||RADM Walter Wyman||June 1, 1891||November 21, 1911||Benjamin Harrison|
|4||RADM Rupert Blue||January 13, 1912||March 3, 1920||William Taft|
|5||RADM Hugh S. Cumming||March 3, 1920||January 31, 1936||Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge|
|6||RADM Thomas Parran, Jr.||April 6, 1936||April 6, 1948||Franklin D. Roosevelt|
|7||RADM Leonard A. Scheele||April 6, 1948||August 8, 1956||Harry S. Truman|
|8||RADM LeRoy Edgar Burney||August 1, 1956||January 29, 1961||Dwight Eisenhower|
|9||RADM Luther Leonidas Terry||March 2, 1961||October 1 1965||John F. Kennedy|
|10||VADM William H. Stewart||October 1, 1965||August 1, 1969||Lyndon Johnson|
|11||RADM Jesse Leonard Steinfeld||December 18, 1969||June 30, 1973||Richard Nixon|
|(Acting)||RADM Paul Ehrlich, Jr.||July 1, 1973||July 13, 1977|
|12||VADM Julius B. Richmond||July 13, 1977||May 14, 1981||Jimmy Carter|
|(Acting)||Edward Brandt, Jr.||May 14, 1981||January 21, 1982||Ronald Reagan|
|13||VADM C. Everett Koop||January 21, 1982||October 1, 1989|
|(Acting)||ADM James O. Mason||October 1, 1989||March 9, 1990||George H. W. Bush|
|14||VADM Antonia Coello Novello||March 9, 1990||June 30, 1993|
|(Acting)||RADM Robert A. Whitney||July 1, 1993||September 8, 1993||Bill Clinton|
|15||VADM Joycelyn Elders||September 8, 1993||December 31, 1994|
|(Acting)||RADM Audrey F. Manley||January 1, 1995||July 1, 1997|
|16||ADM / VADM David Satcher||February 13, 1998||February 12, 2002|
|(Acting)||RADM Kenneth P. Moritsugu||February 13, 2002||August 4, 2002||George W. Bush|
|17||VADM Richard Carmona||August 5, 2002||July 31, 2006|
|(Acting)||RADM Kenneth P. Moritsugu||August 1, 2006||September 30, 2007|
|(Acting)||RADM Steven K. Galson||October 1, 2007|