Last year Whoopi Goldberg summed up the problem nicely when she said, describing Biden’s wife Jill: “I’m hoping Dr. Jill becomes the surgeon general … she’s a hell of a doctor. She’s an amazing doctor,’ as if she knew of the former second lady’s medical expertise.” Of course, “DR Jill” as she demands to be addressed, has a PhD in Education, but the episode shows how much importance people attach to the title. Teachers, preachers, and nurses love to be called ‘doctor” for some reason, having to do with self-esteem I suppose, but it tends to confuse the greater minds like cluckers on “The View.”
Someone has instructed the White House occupant to re-appoint Vivek H. Murthy, MD as Surgeon General, the post from which he was let go four years past. I said then that he although a physician, he also was “a collectivist political hack, hiding behind a medical degree to push for larger government” (whose replacement was an actual nurse-doctor, no kidding), and so he shall remain when he returns to don his admiral’s costume. Ah but the forms require a pro forma confirmation, wherein both sides will slobber all over themselves in the Senate to confirm the appointment of the this very public proponent of the wildly successful Affordable Care Act. So in the meantime, an “acting” will have to be appointed, which means checking another identity box. But dammit, before I could make the obvious joke about nominating a teacher-doctor to the post…
…they predictably inserted a nurse practitioner into this largely pointless office. Why do I call it pointless? Because it relies on fancy titles (“surgeon”, “admiral”) and an incongruous costume to convey extra importance to yet another tiresome bureaucratic position. This contrived importance will be echoed by friendly sources like the Washington Post: “(Susan) Orsega, a career-commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service corps and a longtime infectious-disease specialist, would be among the first nurses to serve in the role of surgeon general, which is often referred to as “the nation’s doctor.”
I’m not trying to unduly bash Nurse Orsega, but she is neither an “infectious disease specialist,” nor is she a doctor. She might be an extremely fine administrator, adept at writing budget requests and hurrying logistics from one point to another in a crisis: “From 2012-2019, she focused on catalyzing partnerships, building infrastructure and leading operations in Mali during periods of fluctuating security conflict, Malian government transition, Ebola and other emerging infectious disease outbreaks.” While that may include actual, even laudable field expertise, that sentence could also have been written about any federal official, or hospital administrator anywhere, with only the locations changed. What CEO of Merciful Tears Health Systems, Inc. could not claim to have “catalyzed partnerships…built infrastructure”?
The obsequiousness paid Orsega by friendly media is more likely an unintended discredit to some really good work, which is lessened by calling her what she is not. This move reeks of the low self-esteem class warfare, pervasive in all of society now, where actual achievement is suspect, and expertise diminished. A quick way to put doctors in their place is to convince the public that they aren’t needed. Of COURSE a compassionate nurse practitioner can do as good, if not a better job providing primary care than a family doc. Of COURSE a med tech at Walgreens can give a simple Covid-19 vaccine. Of COURSE “the nation’s doctor” is a ridiculous term, and so why shouldn’t a nurse be able to handle the office? (It’s an interesting contrast that an actual physician – Ben Carson, MD – was always referred to everywhere as “Secretary” while head of the HHS).
The radical nurse practitioners will love this as validation for their war on standards and excellence. The media loves that it has another chance to bleat about barriers broken, absent any actual such breaking. Orsega will have a nice resume’ bullet for her next paid speaking engagement at University of Wherever School of Public Health, where she will doubtless be introduced as “doctor’ with a wink and a nudge.
And Admiral-General Sir Murthy may re-ascend to the exalted post best described in 1995, by Delaware senator, Joseph R. Biden Jr., who observed “You could eliminate the entire job and you’d have no impact on the people of America.” Which makes Orsega, and then Murthy both perfect for the job in oh so many ways.