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Richard Carmona: 1949—: U.S. Surgeon General

Questioned About Past

In April of 2002, President George W. Bush nominated Dr. Richard Carmona as his choice for the position of U.S. Surgeon General—a position previously held by Dr. David Satcher, who was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1998 and whose term had expired. After Bush nominated Carmona for the post, he was required to face a confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Critics questioned Carmona's qualifications to be America's top doctor. Some called into question the shooting incident, calling him a "cowboy," but the Senate did not question him about the incident. His critics also noted that it took him eight years and two failed attempts before he passed the board certification for his specialty, general surgery. An article in the Los Angeles Times alleged that he had inaccurately completed an application to become an emergency room physician. Carmona acknowledged that it did take him that long, but pointed out that it had no bearing on his performance. "I don't think anybody has ever questioned my competency or my ability as a surgeon," he is quoted as saying by the Chicago Tribune.

Though Bush had praised Carmona's "strong management background," according to the Boston Globe, Carmona's critics cited his mixed record as an administrator. Pima County's health care system continued to lose millions of dollars after he took over in 1997, and he eventually was forced to resign. When questioned about his past disputes with personnel—which were reportedly rocky—he described them as "business disputes" with bitter former employees. Carmona described himself as someone who shook things up at the county health system. "At times, that's upsetting to people who live in the status quo," he explained, according to the Boston Globe.

Carmona, a registered independent, fluently understands a wide array of public health issues, including asthma, childhood obesity, HIV/AIDS, and the contemporary threat of terrorism. In fact, Carmona became concerned with the threat of bioterrorism years before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, brought the threat into focus for the general population. He led lectures and preparedness drills in emergency rooms on the topic. After September 11, he was charged with structuring the terrorist emergency plans for Southern Arizona. As surgeon general, he leads the 5,600 public-health officers who deal with national emergencies.

Carmona's views on such charged public-health issues as abortion and fetal-tissue research remain unknown, although a presidential spokesman pointed out that it would make the most sense for the president to nominate someone whose beliefs were in line with his own. He was noncommittal on his views about gun use, but clearly stated his opposition to the tobacco indus-try's targeting of minors with advertising. He claimed he would work to dissuade America's youth from even recreational drug use, and encourage Americans to exercise more. Carmona was confirmed in August of 2002 by a senatorial vote of 98 to zero, with two senators absent.



American Medical News, April 15, 2002, p. 27.

Boston Globe, July 10, 2002, p. A2.

British Medical Journal, July 20, 2002, p. 123.

Chicago Tribune, July 10, 2002, p. 8; July 24, 2002, p. 16.

Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2002, p. A16.

Time, April 8, 2002, p. 57.

USA Today, March 27, 2002, p. A1.

Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2002, p. B5.

Washington Post, July 10, 2002, p. A15.


CNN.com, www.cnn.com (February 5, 2003).

National Review, www.nationalreview.com (January 15, 2003).

"Richard Carmona - Biographical Sketch," Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, www.lchc.org/News/Drcarmona-bio.pdf (January 15, 2003).

—Brenna Sanchez

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Katie Burke (1953–) Biography - Personal to Galeazzo Ciano (1903–1944) BiographyRichard Carmona: 1949—: U.S. Surgeon General Biography - Early Career Full Of Intensity, Questioned About Past