The White House physician debacle


The debacle over Donald Trump’s nomination of White House physician Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson to become head of the Veteran’s Administration has shed some light on this obscure position. During the period after his nomination, various allegations emerged that said that Jackson was not only lax in the way he ran the office but also frequently drank on the job and created a hostile work environment. After withdrawing his name from consideration for the VA position, Jackson had said that he would revert to his former position but now it appears that he will not do that either, and another navy doctor Sean Conley has taken over.

The odd thing about this whole episode is that if Jackson had not accepted the nomination to head the VA, his indiscretions (assuming the allegations are true) might never have seen the light of day because no one cares about the position of White House physician and he could have continued in what seems like a sinecure. So why did he take the risk of putting his work and life under the close scrutiny that comes with being nominated for a cabinet position? Either he is innocent of the charges and has been slandered or he honestly believed that his behavior was acceptable or he is utterly naïve about how politics and the media work in Washington.

I became curious about the position of White House physician. It is not that small an operation.

The White House physician has an office inside the White House. The location of his or her medical unit plays an important role in keeping the President of the United States healthy. He or she also oversees a staff which is typically composed of five military physicians, five nurses, five physician assistants, three medics, three administrators and one IT Manager.

The medical office of the White House doctor is a “mini urgent-care center” containing a physician’s office, private examination rooms, basic medications and medical supplies, and a crash cart for emergency resuscitation. Air Force One is equipped with emergency medical equipment, an operating table, and operating room lights installed at the center of the presidential plane for emergency use by the White House doctor, but does not have an X-ray machine or medical laboratory equipment.

All this seems a bit much for a single patient. It turns out that the physician also treats “the members of the president’s immediate family, the Vice President, and the Vice President’s family. He or she may also provide medical care and attention to the more than 1.5 million visitors who tour the White House each year, as well as to international dignitaries and other guests of the President.” But even allowing for that expanded range of patients, I cannot imagine that there is much actual doctoring going on. And surely if there is an emergency in Washington or other major US city, I would think that the emergency rooms of nearby hospitals with their trauma centers would be better equipped to deal with it than this staff.

I can see the need for there to be a doctor near the president at all times in case of emergencies, especially when he is traveling, but surely the job must be an excruciatingly boring one, and it is not surprising that Jackson was reportedly tempted to drink on the job. According to Wikipedia, the boredom got to a previous holder of the position.

Daniel Ruge, Ronald Reagan’s first physician in the White House, resigned after the president’s first term and called his job “vastly overrated, boring and not medically challenging.” Ruge could not attend most state dinners due to lack of space. He nonetheless had to be ready for emergencies, and usually waited alone in his office wearing a tuxedo.

Apart from the prestige of working in the White House, the job would have little attraction for any physician who wanted to develop their skills and practice their craft. The novelty of being in the vicinity of political dignitaries would quickly wear thin. Although the position does not require the person to be in the military, civilian doctors are understandably reluctant to give up their practices to take it on. Military doctors can shuffle in and out more easily which is why they are the usual occupants.

Comments

  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Interesting.

    Some of that I knew – that the president’s personal physician runs an office of several doctors (though not exactly how many), that the Office of the PPP treats the president’s family and can be called in when, for instance, someone faints during a WH tour – but I was under the impression that regular staffers of the WH would also get immediate attention from the OPPP if something came on suddenly enough while at work. Yet it staffers aren’t listed among the possible patients. Why a WH tour guest might get attention from the OPPP upon fainting but a WH staffer wouldn’t seems strange to me, but it is a government office and they’re going to have they’re rules for what they do and don’t do.

    I wonder if the office would be better not as sinecure where people remain for many years, but as a more temporary rotating duty with military physicians serving 12-18 months. My father was a military physician once: he volunteered for the navy to get them to pay for medical school and to ensure that he wasn’t drafted to serve in Vietnam. He was nowhere near the level of someone who might be in the OPPP – he served the minimum time before leaving for private practice. But he did serve at Bethesda Naval Hospital, near to the WH, and probably met some people who had worked there. It would be interesting to find out what he thinks about all this.

  2. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Sorry for use of OPPP – I was being colloquial, but I looked it up and officially it’s the WHMU.

  3. file thirteen says

    I wonder if the office would be better not as sinecure where people remain for many years, but as a more temporary rotating duty with military physicians serving 12-18 months.

    Them terrorists gonna infiltrate that.

  4. blf says

    So why did he [Jackson] take the risk of putting his work and life under the close scrutiny that comes with being nominated for a cabinet position?

    Cabinet position? No, the position is not (and as far as I know, never has been and has never been proposed to be) a cabinet position, nor is it equivalent to a cabinet position (based on Ye Pffft! of All Knowledge).

  5. Mano Singham says

    blf,

    The Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs is a Cabinet position according to the link you gave.

  6. Dunc says

    I can see the need for there to be a doctor near the president at all times in case of emergencies, especially when he is traveling

    Also, to prescribe the endless cycle of drugs that most of them turn out to be on…

  7. blf says

    me@4, Oops! Sorry, I misread “cabinet position” in the OP as referring to the Wacko House physician, when it is clearly referring to the VA secretary (as per @5). My bad.

  8. blf says

    Didn’t Trump also jump his physician to a Rear Admiral or something like that, effectively peeing on the Navy’s shoes?

    The CNN report (The President’s doctor is getting promoted, referenced by Ye Pffft! of All Knowledge) suggests yes:

    The Pentagon announced on Friday [23-March-2018?] that President [sic] Donald Trump nominated Jackson to the position of rear admiral (upper half) from his current position of rear admiral (lower half). The nomination, which secretary of defense Jim Mattis announced, would give Jackson his second star and a bump in pay.

    I have no idea how promotions of that sort work, so have no idea how — or even if — hair furor’s alleged “nomination” is unusual.

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