Two years and four months ago, I was honored to be sworn in as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States. For the grandson of a poor farmer from India to be asked by the President to look out for the health of an entire nation was a humbling and uniquely American story. I will always be grateful to our country for welcoming my immigrant family nearly 40 years ago and giving me this opportunity to serve.
During my tenure, I was blessed to have an extraordinary team of dedicated public servants who became my colleagues and friends. I was also fortunate to find thousands of dedicated partners in the community from schools and hospitals to faith groups and mayors. Together, we called our country to action to address the addiction crisis in America through the nation’s first Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health and by urging more prevention, treatment, and humanity in our approach to this chronic illness. We sent letters to millions of health care professionals urging them to join our campaign to Turn the Tide on the opioid epidemic. We issued a report on e-cigarettes and youth, launched a national effort to get Americans walking, and started a community conversation on food insecurity. We partnered with Elmo, the cast of Mom, and Top Chef to inform the country about vaccines, addiction, and healthy eating. And we worked with thousands of Commissioned Corps officers to protect our nation from Ebola and Zika and to respond to the Flint water crisis, major hurricanes, and frequent health care shortages in rural communities. I am exceedingly proud of what our team and our officers have done to bring help and hope to people all across America.
It is important to know that the 6,600 officers in the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps are one of our nation's greatest assets. Each and every day, our officers wake up ready to serve their country in over 800 locations, responding to natural disasters, countering disease outbreaks, and advancing prevention and treatment in communities. During the last few years, the Corps became my family. I will always remember their dedication and the warmth with which they welcomed me. And I will never stop advocating for them.
While I had hoped to do more to help our nation tackle its biggest health challenges, I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have served. The role of the Surgeon General is traditionally to share wisdom with others, but it was I who learned so much by listening to your stories in town halls and living rooms. In a remote fishing village in Alaska, a church in Alabama, an American Indian reservation in Oklahoma, a school in Virginia, and in so many other places, I watched the grit and grace with which our fellow Americans live their lives.
Here are some of those lessons which I will keep with me:
1. Kindness is more than a virtue. It is a source of strength. If we teach our children to be kind and remind each other of the same, we can live from a place of strength, not fear. I have seen this strength manifest every day in the words and actions of people all across our great nation. It is what gives me hope that we can heal during challenging times.
2. We will only be successful in addressing addiction – and other illnesses – when we recognize the humanity within each of us. People are more than their disease. All of us are more than our worst mistakes. We must ensure our nation always reflects a fundamental value: every life matters.
3. Healing happens when we are able to truly talk to and connect with each other. That means listening and understanding. It means assuming good, not the worst. It means pausing before we judge. Building a more connected America will require us to find new ways to talk to each other.
4. The world is locked in a struggle between love and fear. Choose love. Always. It is the world's oldest medicine. It is what we need to build a nation that is safe and strong for us and our children.
This journey would not have been possible without my incredible family. My wife Alice is my hero. Her resilience, optimism, and love have lifted me up and helped me soar. Our baby boy has been my constant source of inspiration to help create a better world. My mother and father have given me everything and to them I owe everything. And my sister has been an enduring source of support and affection from the time I was born.
As my colleague Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams takes over as Acting Surgeon General, know that our nation is in capable and compassionate hands.
Thank you, America, for the privilege of a lifetime. I have been truly humbled and honored to serve as your Surgeon General. I look forward to working alongside you in new ways in the years to come. Our journey for a stronger, healthier America continues.