Surgeon General's Warning: How Politics Crippled the Nationn

Overview


What does it mean to be the nation's doctor? In this engaging narrative, journalist Mike Stobbe examines the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, emphasizing that it has always been unique within the federal government in its ability to influence public health. But now, in their efforts to provide leadership in public health policy, surgeons general compete with other high-profile figures such as the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and ...
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Overview


What does it mean to be the nation's doctor? In this engaging narrative, journalist Mike Stobbe examines the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, emphasizing that it has always been unique within the federal government in its ability to influence public health. But now, in their efforts to provide leadership in public health policy, surgeons general compete with other high-profile figures such as the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Furthermore, in an era of declining budgets, when public health departments have eliminated tens of thousands of jobs, some argue that a lower-profile and ineffective surgeon general is a waste of money. By tracing stories of how surgeons general like Luther Terry, C. Everett Koop, and Joycelyn Elders created policies and confronted controversy in response to issues like smoking, AIDS, and masturbation, Stobbe highlights how this office is key to shaping the nation’s health and explailns why its decline is harming our national well-being.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
07/07/2014
It's been a long slide to irrelevance for America's surgeon general, Associated Press medical journalist Stobbe argues in this history of "America's doctor." Stobbe contends that politicization of the job "stripped away most of the position's responsibilities" and made the surgeon general vulnerable to White House whims. Nevertheless, from its inception in 1871 the men and women appointed used their "bully pulpit" to tackle the most important health issues of the day. Stobbe hails those who made enduring contributions, like Luther Terry, whose report on smoking "proved a turning point" in the general population's attitudes towards its dangers; William Stewart, who helped lead the desegregation of hospitals and decried the lack of quality care for the poor; and C. Everett Koop, who defied expectations of his social conservatism and elevated the job to such heights that reporters began describing his job as that of the "nation's doctor." He also unveils those who condoned unconscionable treatment of public health issues, like Hugh Cumming who "blessed the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment" in the 1930s that secretly deprived black participants effective treatment. Stobbe's skillful, engaging report is especially relevant today as the public's health continues to challenge the nation's leaders. (June)
The Lancet - Dave A Chokshi

"With the rare blend of a reporter's nose for a story and a scholar's fastidiousness, Stobbe chronicles the past century and a half of Surgeons General. The result is a stimulating perspective on the history of American public health."
Health Affairs

"Stobbe has written an interesting and informative book useful to both scholars and general readers. He captures well the political challenges that those working at high levels on public health issues are likely to face."
PopMatters - Jedd Beaudoin

"Invaluable to scholars and highly engaging for general audiences. . . . Stobbe’s research and portraits of the men and women who have held the post of Surgeon General are remarkable in their vividness and insights."
Choice - M. N. Green

"The Surgeon General’s Warning is an impressively detailed, eminently readable account of the creation, strengthening, and gradual decline of the office of surgeon general. . . . A journalist by trade, Stobbe’s narrative is not only based on impressive research but is also very entertaining to read. He effectively brings history to life by recounting the personalities and biographical details of past surgeons general and their contributions to public health in the US. . . . Stobbe can lay claim to having written perhaps the definitive history of the subject."
Booklist - Karen Springen

"A riveting history of the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General and the 18 doctors who held the post. . . . An outstanding resource on the history of U.S. public health." -STARRED REVIEW
Kirkus Reviews
2014-05-17
A richly detailed account of the rise and fall of the United States surgeon general.In this debut, Associated Press national medical correspondent Stobbe offers a history of the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, which, since the 1870s, has been the home base for the federal doctor in charge of America's health. As the head of the Health Service Commissioned Corps (comprising 6,500 health professionals on call for public health emergencies), the surgeon general has historically been in a position to speak more candidly than other health officials about controversial issues. Most memorably, C. Everett Koop used his post as a bully pulpit to educate the public on AIDS in the 1980s. Most surgeons general have not been so outspoken, however, and many have succumbed to political interference. Today, with diminished powers, the surgeon general can no longer succeed in "increasingly partisan and embattled Washington." Indeed, the position should probably be abolished. Stobbe tells the stories of 18 people who have held the post, from Hugh Cumming, a courtly Ivy Leaguer who reigned for 16 years (1920-1936) thanks to close ties to presidents, to the polarizing Joycelyn Elders, who served for 15 months (1993-1994) before resigning after speaking candidly about the teaching of masturbation. Activist surgeons general made a difference: Thomas Parran became a celebrity in the 1930s and '40s as he campaigned against venereal disease; Luther Terry issued a landmark 1964 report on smoking and health. In 1979, Julius Richmond's Healthy People report changed the way Americans think about their health, focusing on unhealthy behaviors rather than infections and unsanitary conditions. Stobbe chronicles the office's handling of such issues as pandemics, the polio vaccine, smoking, lead poisoning and obesity.An important book for policymakers. Many readers will lament the declining state of a post that has contributed much to the country's health.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520272293
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 6/26/2014
  • Pages: 394
  • Sales rank: 379,612
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Mike Stobbe is a national medical correspondent for The Associated Press and is based in New York City. He covers the CDC and writes on a range of health and medical topics. He has a doctorate in public health policy and administration from the University of North Carolina.
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Table of Contents


Plates follow page

1. The Monarch of Public Health
Part One. Rise, 1871–1948
2. Coming to Power
3. War and Prominence
4. The Best Seller

Part Two. Decline, 1949–1980
5. The Quicksand Bureaucracy
6. “They Are Giving the Public Health Service Away!”
7. Bossed Around

Part Three. Struggle, 1981–2001
8. Resurrection
9. Drawn as Villains
10. “You’re on Your Own”

Part Four. Plummet, 2002–Present
11. MIA
12. “America’s Doctor”
13. The Surgeon General’s Demise

Notes
Index

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