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November 17, 2017

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Nurse replaces surgeon general after Obama appointee resigns

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United States Department of Health and Human Services via The New York Times

After being asked to resign by the Trump administration, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, left, the 19th surgeon general of the United States, stepped down on April 21, 2017, and replaced by his deputy, Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, right. Trent-Adams is one of the first nurses to serve in the post.

America’s doctor was fired on Friday and replaced by a nurse.

Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, an Obama administration holdover, was asked to resign by the Trump administration. He was replaced by his deputy, Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams, one of the first nurses to serve as surgeon general.

Trent-Adams will for now be in an acting role. As of Friday evening, she had already replaced Murthy on the surgeon general’s Twitter account, and her portrait had replaced his on the agency’s Facebook page. One of the first comments on that post asked, “Where is Dr. Murthy?”

Alleigh Marré, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, confirmed Murthy’s resignation in an emailed statement Friday, saying he was asked to step down “after assisting in a smooth transition into the new Trump administration.”

Marré said Murthy will continue to serve as a member of the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service.

Trent-Adams may be the first surgeon general who is not a doctor. She is not the first nurse, though. Dr. Richard Carmona, who served under President George W. Bush, was a nurse and a physician, and he sometimes referred to himself as the first nurse to serve as surgeon general.

It was not immediately clear why Murthy was relieved from duty. There is a long history of surgeons general creating unwanted controversy for their political bosses; among the only ways that the government’s top medics usually gain attention is when they leave office under a cloud.

Carmona blasted the Bush administration after he was not asked to serve a second four-year term. He accused White House officials of repeatedly trying to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of political considerations.

And Dr. C. Everett Koop, the most famous surgeon general in the country’s history, largely achieved his fame by defying the Reagan administration’s policies or wishes on a host of public health issues.

Surgeons general have little staff or power but generally use their positions to call attention to important public health priorities.

Murthy has for years made headlines for calling gun violence a public health threat. In 2014, the National Rifle Association urged the Senate not to confirm him.

Murthy did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday, and employees at the Department of Health and Human Services privately expressed surprise at his sudden departure.

Trent-Adams received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Maryland. She was a nurse officer in the Army and also served as a research nurse at the University of Maryland. She joined the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service in 1992 and served as the deputy associate administrator for the HIV/AIDS bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration before joining the surgeon general’s office.