Public Health and the Environment: We’re All in this Together

By Dr. Wayne Cascio

“Public health does not exist in a vacuum. It is intrinsically linked to education, employment, the environment and our economy. There is a whole world beyond hospital corridors and clinic waiting rooms where people are struggling with issues of transportation, housing and development.”

These inspirational words were spoken by Dr. Vivek Murthy, the newly-commissioned 19th Surgeon General of the United States.

Swearing in of U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in Conmy Hall on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall April 22, 2015, in Arlington, Va. (Photo courtesy of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, PAO photo by Damien Salas)

Vice President Joe Biden administers the oath to incoming U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, April 22, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, by Damien Salas)

Dr. Murthy made the above remarks as he addressed those gathered at Fort Myers in northern Virginia on April 22, 2015 at his formal commissioning. The event included the ceremonial passing of the emblem of the U.S. Public Health Service Commission Corp, symbolizing the acceptance of responsibility to lead the more than 6,500 officers working throughout the U.S. and abroad to protect human health.

As “America’s Doctor,” Dr. Murthy brings enormous passion and understanding of challenges that face the nation and the world. Importantly for our Agency and the American people, this includes the recognition and acknowledgment that our health and the environment in which we live are inexorably linked. Dr. Murthy embraces the understanding that a healthy environment is necessary for healthy people.

“We will work to move from a culture of treatment to one of prevention. But while the mark of a great nation may be in how we care for our most vulnerable, the test of a strong nation is how good we are at keeping them from getting sick in the first place,” he said.

I had the great fortune to be in attendance to hear such remarks first hand. I found the experience inspirational, reaffirming the principles of why I initially chose to become a physician, and again why I chose to redirect my medical career several years ago to advancing environmental public health.

To the many members of the Commissioned Corp working within the EPA we salute you for your service and commitment to our Country and people throughout the world, most notably for your recent work in West Africa in the fight against ebola. We here at the EPA look forward to being Dr. Murthy’s partners as we strive to protect public health and our environment.

About the Author: Dr. Wayne Cascio spent more than 25 years as a cardiologist before joining EPA’s Office of Research and Development where he now leads research on the links between exposures to air pollution and public health, and how people can use that information to maintain healthy hearts.