WASHINGTON - The Senate recently confirmed the nomination of David Satcher, MD, PhD, as the next Surgeon General of the United States and Assistant Secretary of Health. He becomes the first person to fill the post in over three years.
Despite opposition from conservatives led by senator John Ashcroft of Missouri, the senate supported Satcher's nomination in a 63-35 vote.
"We are thrilled and honored that the nation's `First Doctor' is a family physician," said Neil H. Brooks, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). According to the AAFP, Satcher's nomination reflects the changes in today's health care system - changes that include a focus on illness and injury prevention and a more comprehensive approach to patient care, emphasizing physical and emotional well-being.
"I am gratified, energized and moved by the breadth and depth of support for my confirmation as Surgeon General and Assistant Secretary of Health," said Satcher. "This is an American dream come true - to go from a humble farm in Anniston, Alabama to the office of the Surgeon General, to have a chance to serve the country I love, and to earn the confidence of so many leaders I honor and respect."
Satcher has been criticized by conservatives for his support of needle exchange programs. "It doesn't make sense to give dope addicts needles to conduct their poisonous activities," senator Ashcroft told the Senate before the vote.
His nomination also ran into trouble last fall when he agreed with President Clinton that a ban on partial birth abortions should include provisions that take the mother's health into consideration.
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) not only opposed Satcher's nomination as Surgeon General, but is calling for the elimination of the office.
"The office itself has lost sight of its mission and has become obsolete in the battle for public health," said Jane M. Orient, MD, executive director of the AAPS. "It's nothing more than a publicity tool to promote the political agenda of the White House."
Senator Bill Frist, the Senate's only physician, said that Satcher's nomination was never in serious jeopardy, despite being caught up in the abortion issue.
"Satcher's opposition was really an excuse to play on the raw emotions that are out there on this difficult and emotional issue," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
"No one is better qualified ... to be America's doctor," said President Clinton. "He is a mainstream physician who is an eloquent advocate for the health of all Americans."
"When President Clinton nominated me as Surgeon General, I made a promise: to work hard to engage all Americans everywhere in a lively, ongoing conversation about physical activity, good nutrition, responsible behavior and other passports to good health and long life," Satcher said. "With the strong and broad support for my confirmation, I pledge to keep this promise."
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