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Former surgeon general named Distinguished Professor in College of Nursing

Courtest of MCT

The high school dropout who was raised in Harlem by a poor Hispanic immigrant family and went on to become a decorated war veteran and the 17th U.S. Surgeon General has landed at Ohio State.

The “only in America” story sounds like a teaser on the back cover of a novel on the fiction shelf at a bookstore. But it is the life summation of Dr. Richard H. Carmona, the recently appointed Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Health Promotion and Entrepreneurship at OSU’s College of Nursing.

Carmona’s tenure as surgeon general was highlighted by his work publicizing the dangers of secondhand smoke. Since then, he has been teaching, working in public health, and is running for an open US Senate in Arizona.

“Tobacco is the No. 1  preventable cause of death and significant disability in our country,” Carmona said. “We have to do everything we can to eliminate it.”

Born in November 1949, Carmona’s future was shaped by firsthand experiences with homelessness, hunger and health inequalities, making him mindful of the relationship between culture, health education and economic status.

Carmona’s parents struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse. He and his three younger siblings lived with his mother and grandmother in a small Harlem tenement apartment in New York City.

He dropped out of high school and joined the Army, but to join the Special Services and become a Green Beret, he had to get his GED diploma.

Carmona credits the Army for his discipline and focus. He was wounded in combat and received numerous decorations, including two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

After leaving active duty, he was focused on “the mission” to get through school. He didn’t have high GPA or SAT scores and several colleges turned him down, eventually earning an associate’s degree from Bronx Community College.

Carmona worked several jobs while pursuing his education. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree at the University of California, San Francisco and then his medical degree, receiving the gold-headed cane for being the valedictorian. Later he went on to complete a master’s degree in public health at the University of Arizona.

“So I took the slow route to where I am today,” Carmona said. “All of those stops were invaluable learning experiences.”

While continuing his medical career, he served more than 25 years in the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in Arizona as a deputy sheriff, detective, department surgeon and SWAT Team Leader and was named National SWAT Officer of the Year.

Patricio Garcia, a senior consultant for the Food and Drug Administration, was Carmona’s assistant while he was surgeon general. Garcia said one career led to another.

“You’re getting more than a doctor,” Garcia said. “You’re getting all these experiences that come along with it.”

In March 2002 he was appointed the 17th U.S. Surgeon General by former President George W. Bush, and served out his tenure until the end of his term in July 2006.

Carmona issued a landmark Surgeon General’s report on smoking and the dangers of secondhand smoke, which increased smoke-free environments worldwide, said Kenneth Moritsugu, vice president for global strategic affairs with the Johnson & Johnson’s Diabetes Institute. Moritsugu was Carmona’s Deputy Surgeon General.

Carmona agreed with the Ohio Board of Regents’ resolution that passed Monday, advocating that the various boards of trustees from Ohio universities establish a tobacco-free campus policy.

Carmona’s responsibilities at OSU will be to share his expertise in public health, health literacy and health innovation with students and faculty through keynote presentations and guest lectures. He will also be participating in community outreach projects.

Bernadette Melnyk, dean of the College of Nursing and the university’s chief wellness officer, said the university is lucky to have Carmona, who is a passionate advocate for wellness.

“I will continue to assist in my new position with Ohio State University, to the dean and the program because I really believe in it and it’s something that’s of value not only to Ohio but to the United States,” Carmona said.

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