Vivek Murthy was nominated Monday to be U.S. surgeon general again — and if his name sounds familiar, it’s not just because he previously held the position during the Obama administration.
Before Murthy lived in Washington, the self-proclaimed “mango aficionado” was the 16-year-old valedictorian at Miami Palmetto Senior High. He was inducted into the school’s alumni association Hall of Fame in October 2018.
“We are thrilled to see his nomination to serve again as surgeon general as a recognition of his commitment to protection of our country’s public health and planning for future challenges,” former Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, president of the high school’s alumni association, said Monday.
Murthy graduated from the Pinecrest school with a 6.09 GPA in 1994. His accomplishments won him a prestigious Silver Knight award in general scholarship, and admission to Harvard University. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Harvard, he went on to get his M.D. and M.B.A. degrees from Yale University.
Before his time as surgeon general, Murthy co-founded Doctors for America, a nonprofit mobilizing physicians and medical students to improve access to affordable care. He also co-founded with his sister VISIONS, a peer-to-peer HIV/AIDS education program in India and the U.S., according to his website.
“I don’t know that he ever made a B,” Palmetto Advanced Placement biology teacher Cullen Bullock told the Miami Herald in 2014 when Murthy was confirmed as U.S. surgeon general during former President Barack Obama’s administration. “His test scores were always right at the top.”
Born in England, Murthy, the son of immigrants from India, first became interested in medicine during his childhood in Miami-Dade, according to the Herald archives. His father was a doctor.
He was mature, driven and always willing to help others, his Palmetto honors anatomy and physiology class teacher Lynn Evans said. Those details made it into the college recommendation she wrote for him.
“When you can say a student is in the top 1 percent of students you’ve had the opportunity to teach, you know that that kid is going somewhere,” she told the Miami Herald in 2014.
Even with all that studying, Murthy still had room for fun — and a little bit of mischief.
One of his most memorable times: blowing bubbles in class, Murthy recalled during a visit to his high school alma mater in 2017 for a Q&A session with students. He was invited by then Palmetto High senior Shelby Loeb who did research on electronic cigarettes — a subject Murthy paid close attention to during his previous tenure as surgeon general.
Loeb, now a Palmetto alumna and a student at Tulane University in New Orleans, told the Miami Herald Monday that Murthy’s visit to Palmetto showed her anything could be accomplished if you set your mind to it. Loeb, who is now in the process of applying to graduate school to become a clinical psychologist, said she was happy to hear about Murthy’s second nomination.
“I was elated and felt a sense of comfort knowing that the health of our country could possibly be in the hands of such a genuine, well-rounded and intelligent individual, especially in a time when the world is facing such a deadly pandemic,” Loeb said in a text message.
While 43-year-old Murthy doesn’t live in South Florida anymore, his father Hall Murthy and sister Rashmi Murthy have a medical practice near Baptist Hospital in Kendall.
Murthy’s path to U.S. surgeon general
Murthy was nominated by Obama in November 2013 at the age of 37. His confirmation was delayed in part by the National Rifle Association, which took issue with his support for stronger gun control laws, according to Miami Herald stories at the time. The Senate narrowly confirmed him 51-43.
Under Obama, the 19th surgeon general of the United States helped lead the nation’s response to Ebola and Zika, the Flint water crisis, the opioid crisis and other health issues.
Murthy had nearly two years left on his four-year term as surgeon general when he was asked to resign by President Donald Trump, and then relieved of his duties.
“The timing was very surprising,” Murthy told the Miami Herald during his Palmetto High visit. “I’m going to continue to be involved in efforts to protect kids from substances including tobacco and I want to continue supporting Palmetto [High] and my community.”
Now, more than three years later, Murthy has found himself nominated once again, this time by President-elect Joe Biden in the time of COVID-19.
“I never dreamed I’d have the honor to once again serve as Surgeon General,” Murthy posted on Twitter on Monday. “In this moment of crisis, I’m grateful for the opportunity to help end this pandemic, be a voice for science, and support our nation on its path to rebuilding and healing.”
Murthy has been a top health adviser to Biden through the campaign. He was part of Biden’s public health advisory committee since the pandemic began in the U.S. and has been serving as a co-chair of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board during the transition, CNN reported.
Next up for the nationally known doctor with Miami roots? Senate confirmation hearings.
Miami Herald staff writer Monique Madan contributed to this report.
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