Obama's top doctor has more than medicine on his mind

Dr Vivek Murthy outside the Supreme Court in Washington on March 26, 2012, as it began three days of arguments on the President’s Affordable Care Act – health-reform legislation that the new Surgeon-General strongly supports.

US - But, last week, Dr Vivek Murthy, 37, was finally confirmed as Surgeon-General of the United States.

The first Indian-American to hold the post, Dr Murthy, a physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, was President Barack Obama's pick to be the nation's top spokesman for public health issues.

Dr Murthy's predecessors used the Surgeon-General's office to address the dangers of smoking in the 1960s and to educate the public about the emerging Aids epidemic in the 1980s.

The Harvard- and Yale-trained physician said at a Senate hearing in February that he would address health issues such as obesity and tobacco-related diseases, fight the stigma of mental illness, "roll back the resurgence of vaccine-preventable disease" and "make prevention and health promotion the backbone of our communities".

The National Rifle Association (NRA) might have been relieved that Dr Murthy, who supports gun control, did not prioritise firearm restrictions in his statement to Congress, but he had certainly riled the group before.

In January last year, Dr Murthy, as president and co- founder of non-profit group Doctors for America, released a letter to Congress proposing that the US "cut gun-related deaths in half by 2020".

The letter also called for more background checks on gun buyers and limits on the purchase of ammunition - all policies that the gun lobby opposes.

Not one to mince his words, Dr Murthy even sent out this tweet in 2012: "Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they're scared of NRA. Guns are a health-care issue."

However, at the February hearing, he said he did not intend to use the Surgeon-General's office as "a bully pulpit for gun control".

Despite the NRA's efforts to thwart his nomination by lobbying against him, he made it through with a 51 to 43 vote.

Born in England, he moved with his parents - originally from Karnataka state in India - to Miami when he was three.

His father is a primary care doctor and his mother worked at their practice.

Far more than just a medical professional, Dr Murthy is also a start-up entrepreneur and a political activist.

He founded Doctors for America in 2009, and the organisation has been a strong advocate of the President's Affordable Care Act. Formerly known as Doctors for Obama, it worked to get Mr Obama elected in 2008.

Dr Murthy said in an article in Hospitalist News in 2012 that he was "struck by how few physicians were organising and gathering their ideas to actually make an impact on the candidates' platform and ultimately on a health-reform Bill".

Not forgetting his Indian heritage, he gives back through Visions Worldwide - a non-profit group he founded in 1995 while still at Harvard to educate people in India about Aids and HIV.

His entrepreneurial pursuits include a software start-up company, TrialNetworks, which he founded in 2007 to assist drug developers in collecting data more efficiently from clinical trials.

Mr Obama said in a statement that he believes Dr Murthy will bring a "lifetime of experience promoting public health" to the role.

He noted: "Vivek's confirmation makes us better positioned to save lives around the world and protect the American people here at home." Colleagues and friends told The Boston Globe that Dr Murthy is "passionately idealistic" and throws himself into his work.

So it's no wonder that when a friend was asked to describe what Dr Murthy had in his fridge, the answer was unflavoured almond milk, raw carrots and high-protein grains - all signs of a busy bachelor, and certainly a health-conscious one.

This article was first published on December 22, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.