Kenneth P. Moritsugu, former acting surgeon general of the United States, credited the GW Department of Preventive Medicine and the diverse D.C. community for his rise to the top public health job in America at a talk on campus Thursday.
Moritsugu spoke to GW students at the Alumni House as part of the “How do I Become a…?” series presented by the GW Class Council, the Alumni Association and the Career Center. He recounted how an unconventional undergraduate path took him to medical school at GW.
“I graduated college with a degree in classical languages and I was an expert in Greek and Latin, which is not a typical degree for medical school,” he said. “GW took a chance on me and I think I returned the payment.”
A longtime member of the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, Moritsugu recounted his years in the Coast Guard as a ship’s medical officer during the 1970s.
“We would sail for 500 miles with fuel near Newfoundland and Greenland and then we would drift back 500 miles,” he said. “We would rock, roll, pitch, and yawn, which was not good for somebody who got sea sickness.”
Moritsugu later returned to the District and worked for the federal government. He served as the director of health services for the FBI’s prison system for 11 years.
As deputy surgeon general after the Sept. 11 attacks, he worked on Capitol Hill for 35 consecutive days to handle the anthrax attacks. In 2006, he was named acting surgeon general and served in that capacity until he retired in Oct. 2007.
Moritsugu said he always enjoyed his career in public health.
“You get a certain degree of satisfaction from working in the public service because you make a difference in society and in the world,” he said.
Moritsugu told students they have been afforded a great opportunity to attend an urban college like GW.
“Schools in the middle of nowhere are great centers of academia and thought, but they are a vacuum,” he said.
Moritsugu now serves as a vice president of Johnson and Johnson’s Diabetes Institute. He said he is passionate about his new job because he has Type 1 diabetes.
Joan Brambaugh, a first-year medical student, said she enjoyed the perspective Moritsugu brought to the event.
“If medical students get too caught up in the details, they lose focus,” Brambaugh said. “It is always good to see the big picture.”