Nurse Appointed as Acting U.S. Surgeon General

April 19, 2021 by Alec Stone MA, MPA, ONS Public Affairs Director

Three nurses serve in the U.S. Congress, and the profession briefly added one more federal representation at the agency level as well. President Joe Biden appointed Rear Admiral Susan Orsega, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN, a nurse practitioner, as acting surgeon general while Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBH, who served as former president Barack Obama’s surgeon general, was waiting for Senate confirmation. The position is often referred to as the “nation’s doctor,” although Orsega was the third nurse to hold the title before Murthy assumed his current post.

Orsega has served as the director of commissioned corps headquarters at the Office of the Surgeon General and was the principal advisor to the former surgeon general on issues related to commissioned corps training, preparedness, and overall force fitness. She led more than 6,000 uniformed health officers in 800 locations globally in support of public health. She crested leadership in the federal government with her COVID-19 coronavirus efforts.  

“The importance of obtaining COVID-19 vaccinations will help reduce the burden of the health care system,” Orsega said in a news story. “It will also require us to battle this fight together. That’s my focus in the two hats the acting surgeon general wears.” 

She has extensive public health emergency and disaster care experience and served on 15 national and international disaster missions through the U.S. government. Before appointed acting surgeon general, she was negotiating for the corps’ own supply of COVID-19 vaccines rather than sharing the roughly one million doses allotted to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Prior to her role at commissioned corps, Orsega worked at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. She was then named chief nurse officer of the U.S. Public Health Service and was inducted into the American Academy of Nursing in 2016. She is also an American Association of Nurse Practitioners fellow.

Orsega is one of the many nurses leading public policy in federal positions. Her career is proof that health policy and advocacy has space for every nurse, no matter their credentials or location. Get involved in ONS advocacy efforts to start enacting change at the local, state, or national level.


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