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Last Updated

12 Nov 2002

Source: Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2002.


Carmona Is Easily Confirmed as New U.S. Surgeon General

Health: The 52-year-old Arizonan is confirmed on unanimous vote in the Senate.


WASHINGTON -- On a unanimous voice vote, the Senate Tuesday confirmed Arizona trauma surgeon and SWAT team deputy Richard H. Carmona as surgeon general.

Carmona will be commissioned as a three-star admiral in the public health corps, commanding more than 5,600 commissioned officers, although he will have only a small staff.

Successful surgeons general have taken advantage of the bully pulpit of their office to promote public health causes. ''The surgeon general is one of this country's leaders on matters of public health, and Dr. Carmona will be a strong and vigorous leader in our efforts to combat chronic conditions and lead this nation to better health,'' Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said after he was confirmed.

The 52-year-old Carmona faced tough, although cordial, questions at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee earlier this month about his rocky tenure as a health-care manager in Arizona and his struggles to become board-certified as a surgeon.

Committee chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said at the hearing that he found Carmona's responses satisfactory, and he endorsed the nomination. Carmona told the committee, he would focus on preventing problems: encouraging Americans to lose weight, exercise, eat healthily and stop smoking. He also said he plans to use his experience in bioterrorism preparedness to reduce risks to Americans.

Carmona, who was born to Puerto Rican parents in New York City, was a high school dropout and street gang member before a chance encounter with an Army major changed his life. He enlisted and served as a Green Beret in Vietnam.He later attended medical school at UC San Francisco and was chosen by classmates to give the valedictory speech at graduation.

In Tucson, where he moved to head the new trauma center at a hospital, Carmona gained local fame for his exploits as a deputy on the Pima County Sheriff's Department SWAT team. He helped save a man stranded on a mountaintop in a daring helicopter rescue, and he killed an armed suspect in a shootout at a busy city intersection.

Some former colleagues said his abrasive style made working with him difficult. Carmona twice sued his first Tucson employer, Tucson Medical Center, winning a multimillion-dollar breach-of-contract action and a public apology. He later resigned as head of the county's health system shortly before the commissioners planned to vote him out.