Throughout the pandemic, nurses have played a crucial role attending to patients. We know that nurses spend more time with patients than any other type of healthcare provider. Since the beginning of the crisis, nurses have made it clear that they want more representation at the state and federal level to help the country respond to the pandemic.
Now, they are finally getting their wish.
President Biden has just tapped nurse Susan Orsega to serve as the nation’s Acting Surgeon General, a role that’s often referred to as “the nation’s doctor.” She would be one of the first nurses to ever serve in this position.
Meet Susan Orsega
Orsega is no stranger to public health. She currently serves as the Director of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a position she has held since March 2019, overseeing the corps’s 6,500 uniformed health professionals who “serve throughout the nation, including in communities most in need, by providing essential public health, health care and other services,” according to the government’s site.
She is also a longtime infectious disease specialist. According to her bio, she managed several international research projects at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where she served during the Ebola outbreak of 2014.
Orsega grew up in the Pittsburgh area before rising through the ranks of the nation’s public health system.
She will take over for Jerome Adams, the Surgeon General under the Trump Administration. President Biden asked him to resign soon after being sworn in as the 46th Commander in Chief.
What Does It Mean to Be the Acting Surgeon General?
As Acting Surgeon General, Orsega will be the voice of the nation’s health and science team. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Surgeon General “provides Americans with the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and reduce their risk of illness and injury.”
As you might expect, she will have her hands full with COVID-19, and will oversee a number of public health channels that will be used to direct the country’s response to the pandemic.
The position was first created in 1871. Shortly after the United States was founded, Congress established the U.S. Marine Hospital Service to serve and care for the country’s injured sailors and naval officers. In 1870, it was converted into a national hospital system with a centralized administration, placed under the care of a single medical officer, which became known as the Surgeon General.
The national hospital soon evolved into the Commissioned Corps, which was originally made up of physicians. The U.S. Public Health Service soon broadened to include a range of healthcare professionals.
Orsega won’t be the first nurse to serve in this position. Former President Trump nominated nurse Sylvia Trent-Adams for the post back in 2017. Richard Carmona, who is a physician as well as a nurse, served in the position during the Bush Administration.
Orsega’s colleagues were thrilled when they heard the news, including some folks from her hometown.
Dr. Randal A. Lutz, superintendent of Baldwin Whitehall School District, wrote on Twitter, “Biden to name Susan Orsega, BWSD Class of 1986 as acting surgeon general! Highlander pride at the national level on full display!! So proud to have known Sue since our days at BHS!”
The John Hopkins School of Nursing also took a moment to sing her praises, writing, “Rear Admiral Susan Orsega, at this critical moment in history we look forward to your leadership directing our nation’s health care, policy, and wellbeing in your new post as acting U.S. Surgeon General,” on Twitter.
Health and Policy Researcher, Dr. Ali R. Tayyeb Ph.D., RN, NPD-BC, PHN, added:
“OK… The nurse to become the acting surgeon general’s name is Rear Admiral Susan Orsega… It’s not just Susan Orsega, Ms, not Mrs, not Ortega … please get the title and spelling of this Nurse Leaders name correct if you’re posting or writing about this Nurse Leader.”
A Change at the Top (At Least for Now)
As exciting as this news may be, it is only temporary. As Acting Surgeon General, Orsega will hold the position temporarily until the U.S. Senate can confirm President Biden’s official nominee, Vivek H. Murthy. Murthy is a close aide to the president. He also served as Surgeon General under the Obama Administration.
It’s not clear how long Orsega will have this title. Confirmation hearings for Murthy have yet to be scheduled, according to Madeleine Russak, a representative for the Senate’s Health Education Labor and Pension committee. “The committee is ready to go with an aggressive scheduling of hearings once we organize, with nominations being a top priority.”
The Senate currently has its hands full with the second impeachment trial of Former President Trump as well as passing another COVID-19 relief package to help the country respond to the pandemic. Many of the president’s nominees have yet to be confirmed, so it may be several weeks before Murthy assumes the title of Surgeon General.
Until then, Orsega will be considered “the nation’s doctor.”