Dr. Vivek Murthy — Former Surgeon General on Combatting COVID-19, Loneliness, and More (#417)

“All of us, regardless of what stage of life we’re at, we’ve got three basic needs: we all want to know that we matter, we want to be seen for who we are, and we want to know that we’re loved.”

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Dr. Vivek H. Murthy (@vivek_murthy, vivekmurthy.com) served as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States between 2014-2017. As the Vice Admiral of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, he commanded a uniformed service of 6,600 public health officers globally. During his tenure, Dr. Murthy launched the TurnTheTide campaign, catalyzing a movement among health professionals to address the nation’s opioid crisis. He also issued the first Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, calling for expanded access to prevention and treatment and for recognizing addiction as a chronic illness, not a character flaw.

In 2017, Dr. Murthy focused his attention on chronic stress and loneliness as prevalent problems that have profound implications for health, productivity, and happiness. He has co-founded a number of organizations: VISIONS, an HIV/AIDS education program in India; Swasthya, a community health partnership in rural India training women as health providers and educators; software company TrialNetworks; and the grassroots physicians organization Doctors for America.

Since leaving government service, Dr. Murthy has continued to focus on loneliness and social connection. His book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World will be published this spring by Harper Collins.

Please enjoy! 

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This podcast is brought to you by NutriBullet and Trello. More on both below. 

#417: Dr. Vivek Murthy — Former Surgeon General on Combatting COVID-19, Loneliness, and More


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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear an episode with someone else who knows a thing or two about loneliness? — Listen to my recent conversation with Adam Grant, in which we discussed challenge networks, failure resumes, inbox infinity, blind spots vs. bright spots, and much more. (Stream below or right-click here to download):


  • Connect with Dr. Vivek H. Murthy:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram


  • How Vivek trains people to pronounce his name.
  • Did Vivek write a book on loneliness purely to address a widescale public health issue, or was it prompted by something more personal?
  • How has loneliness played out in Vivek’s adult life?
  • As an internal medicine specialist who wasn’t formally trained to help his patients cope with loneliness, Vivek encountered it often, nonetheless. What did he do to comfort these patients?
  • How does Vivek relate to mortality?
  • What does the job of Surgeon General entail, and how did Vivek find his way to the office? Who answers to the office, and where might they be found?
  • After battling the Ebola virus during the Obama administration, what are the similarities and differences Vivek has observed about our current COVID-19 crisis? What are we getting right, and what are we getting wrong?
  • If Vivek were the benevolent dictator of the United States at this point in time, how would he direct his team for maximum effect against COVID-19, and what three principles would guide him? What interventions — whether statewide or nationwide — would he consider implementing?
  • Is the United States too culturally different and too politically divided to follow the stricter virus containment measures of countries like China and South Korea?
  • How can we agree on a course of decisive action as a nation when we’re so polarized? Could COVID-19 become a catalyzing call for unity?
  • What tools or advice would Vivek suggest to a CEO or company leader for counterbalancing the effects of loneliness among his or her staff during this time of intense isolation?
  • How did Vivek determine there was a chronic loneliness problem in the workplace, and in what way does his inside scoop exercise help workmates form a closer, more familial connection with one another?
  • Polls and questions that can help check the pulse of your team members at work and their level of connection.
  • What does Vivek mean when he says “Remember your anchors,” and what does he consider his own anchors?
  • During what period of time did Vivek feel especially lost, lonely, and “probably depressed?”
  • What made Vivek’s transition out of his role as Surgeon General so traumatic, what did the aftermath look like, and what has helped him get past it?
  • How many of us look at emotions as a source of weakness versus a source of power?
  • How did the book Vivek wound up writing differ from the book he thought he was going to write?
  • Parting thoughts.