From Daring Rescues to Public Health Debates

Some stories follow you everywhere – even to the White House.

That was the case when former President George W. Bush introduced Richard Carmona, MD, as his nominee for Surgeon General in 2002.

“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,” the former president joked.

The 1992 incident had Dr. Carmona rappelling from a copter to rescue a civilian stranded on a cliff in Arizona. It was just one episode of a dynamic career, which includes 30-plus years as a Pima County deputy sheriff and department surgeon.

Long before being unanimously confirmed as the country’s 17th Surgeon General, Dr. Carmona experienced hunger and homelessness. He was a high school dropout and a combat-decorated Special Forces Vietnam Veteran. After earning his GED, Dr. Carmona distinguished himself as the top graduate at the University of California San Francisco Medical School and recipient of its prestigious gold-headed cane.

Professionally, he’s been a nurse, a trauma surgeon, detective, SWAT team leader, professor, medical director for police and fire departments and peace officer with expertise in special operations and emergency preparedness. Awards include Top Cop, SWAT Officer of the Year and National Tactical EMS honors, among others.

A realization that most illnesses are preventable led Dr. Carmona into yet another career interest – the public health sector.

“As 17th U.S. Surgeon General, I was privileged to serve as the nation’s doctor,” he said. “I focused much of my time on promoting proven programs and individual steps that lead to good health.”

During his four-year tenure, Dr. Carmona’s landmark communications included the definitive Surgeon General’s Report on the dangers of secondhand smoke. He also focused on preparedness, health disparities, health literacy, global health and health diplomacy.