Richard Carmona, M.D., President Bush's nominee for U.S. surgeon general, has been many things: high school dropout, Green Beret soldier, SWAT team member, trauma surgeon. He even had a short stint as a hospital administrator.
Carmona, 52, who as a police officer once swung from below a helicopter to rescue a man stranded on the side of a cliff and on another occasion shot a murder suspect to death after a roadside gunfight, was the administrator of 114-bed Kino Community Hospital in Tucson, Ariz., from 1998 to 1999. He was a "very charismatic leader" who led efforts to create an integrated health system in Pima County, said Laurie Ingram, an associate administrator at Kino.
Those were some of the bits of information available last week about Carmona, after Bush made one of two top health nominations. As expected, the president picked Elias Zerhouni, M.D., for director of the National Institutes of Health (March 18, p. 46). Both nominees are subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Carmona is chairman of the Arizona Southern Regional Emergency Medical System and a professor of surgery and public health at the University of Arizona, Tucson. In addition to a medical degree from the University of California, Carmona has a master's degree in public health from the University of Arizona.
The American Medical Association, of which Carmona is a member, hailed him as a "natural choice." "Thoroughly professional and a consummate communicator, Dr. Carmona is a true physician leader," said Timothy Flaherty, M.D., the AMA board chairman, in a written statement.
Carmona's nomination came as something of a surprise to healthcare association officials in Washington. In fact, he may not have been Bush's first choice for the post. Late last year, fitness pioneer Kenneth Cooper, M.D., founder and president of Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas and Bush's personal physician, was widely rumored to be the leading candidate.
Bush said last week that his new surgeon general would promote lifestyle improvements to reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease and would speak to the nation about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. The surgeon general serves as the president's spokesman on health matters and oversees 5,600 healthcare professionals who are part of the nation's Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
"When I first learned that Dr. Richard Carmona once dangled out of a moving helicopter, I worried that maybe he wasn't the best guy to educate our Americans about reducing health risks," Bush said jokingly at the White House nomination event last week.
Carmona thanked Bush for "an opportunity to provide leadership and mentorship by example so that our youth of today will be inspired and empowered to be the responsible leaders of tomorrow."