Solomon Center Hosts Surgeon General for a Conversation on Health Policy

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy standing with microphone
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy MD ’03, SOM ’03 addresses an audience at Yale Law School during a Sept. 8 conversation on health policy co-sponsored by the Solomon Center.

On Sept. 8, the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy hosted U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy MD ’03, SOM ’03 for a discussion moderated by Abbe R. Gluck ’00, Alfred M. Rankin Professor of Law at Yale Law School and Faculty Director of the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy and Professor of Internal Medicine (General Medicine) at the Yale School of Medicine. 

In a packed Yale Law School auditorium with an audience from Yale’s law, divinity, medicine, and public health schools, Murthy emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary problem-solving. He told audience members to remain open-minded to innovation and collaboration. He highlighted public health crises like the AIDS epidemic and COVID-19 to illustrate the need to combine expertise in health, law, culture, social supports, and other perspectives to address issues and ensure preparedness.

Central to the discussion was the increasing importance of shifting healthcare and public health reforms to more fully address mental health in the United States. The surgeon general explained that the pandemic exacerbated the need for mental health services and showed the importance of reducing the stigma around mental health support. Murthy discussed the tremendous increase in people feeling lonely and isolated, and that these feelings impact individuals as well as their families and loved ones. He suggested that to better address mental health, we need to shift policy, institutions, and culture. 

Murthy explained that shifting mental health policy means ensuring that people can access mental health care, which includes reducing the financial burden people face for such services, he said. Institutional shifts mean that providers and the systems in which they work are properly supported and trained, he said, adding that providers must also have access to much-needed mental health services. A cultural shift begins with smaller changes. People can start by being more open and honest about mental health problems to themselves and then with their family, friends. Finally, they can extend this understanding with their local and professional networks by extending assistance to community members in need of support. 

Murthy also raised the importance of addressing health worker burnout, which has been a priority for his office and the focus of a recent Surgeon General Advisory. He talked about the need to address and mitigate ongoing burnout and stress resulting from COVID-19, as well as the need to build in mechanisms to prevent mass burnout that impacts staffing. In response to questions from medical practitioners eager to do more to help their patients, he discussed a holistic approach to health that includes social supports, including access to food, housing, and other critical services.