UNDER President Ronald Reagan, C. Everett Koop gave the musty post of U.S. Surgeon General new life and credibility. Now President-elect Barack Obama is poised to do Mr. Reagan one better with the reported selection of Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent.
In contrast to the grandfatherly Dr. Koop, Dr. Gupta is a young (39), practicing neurosurgeon who has skillfully managed to intertwine his impressive medical expertise with journalistic zeal.
And perhaps most important to the role as the nation's top public health physician, Dr. Gupta has shown himself to be an outstanding communicator in his regular work on CNN, plus periodic appearances on the CBS Evening News and in columns for Time magazine.
Clearly, his talent to explain complex medical and health issues in easily understood language is a major plus in a job that can be an effective bully pulpit on matters of public policy.
In the 1980s, Dr. Koop demonstrated how that could be done with his revival of the moribund office. He earned a great deal of respect for unflinching leadership in areas from fighting cigarette smoking to making AIDS a public health issue instead of simply a moral one.
Successive surgeons general have tried to capitalized on those achievements with mixed results, but the influence and authority of the office has mostly been on the wane for years. It's not a stretch to expect that Dr. Gupta, who grew up in the Detroit area and received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Michigan, could give instant star power and new clout to the post.
Dr. Gupta, who still scrubs in part-time in one of the nation's toughest hospitals - Atlanta's Grady Memorial, known for its trauma cases - and is a professor of neurosurgery at Emory University, reportedly has been promised an expanded role in formulating health-care policy in the White House.
It wouldn't be his first experience in the overlapping niche of politics and medicine. In the 1990s, Dr. Gupta served as a White House fellow, where he was a special adviser to first lady Hillary Clinton.
The Obama team apparently has concluded that Dr. Gupta could be a valuable resource in helping to both frame and promote its agenda on health-care reform. It's another solid choice for the incoming administration.