GW Doc Tapped to Serve as Physician to the President
President Joseph R. Biden Jr. recently commissioned Kevin O’Connor, DO, associate professor of health, human function, and rehabilitation sciences, and of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, to serve as the Physician to the President.
In December 2019, O’Connor released a three-page statement on President Biden’s health, in which O’Connor described his patient as a “healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency to include those as Chief Executive, Head of State, and Commander in Chief.” His most recent public statements have focused on the President’s recent foot injury, part of the Biden Administration’s stated objective for transparency.
The health update is one of a number of things for which the Physician to the President is responsible. In his role, O’Connor will be tasked with providing for the health and welfare for the first family, anything from preventative health care, primary care, health screenings, nutrition, exercise, all the way to emergency actions.
“It’s a 24-7, 365-day, anywhere in the world kind of job,” said O’Connor. Although he may not personally accompany the President on every single trip, as the White House Medical Unit is comprised of roughly 60 personnel, including nine physicians, O’Connor will be the physician covering most of them and responsible for all of them. It’s when the president is on the road, he added, that the job becomes a little different from the average primary care role.
“When we are on a movement, we work hand-in-glove with the United States Secret Service for what’s called executive protective medicine, providing emergency medical planning and coverage for all of the president’s trips. That’s the part that makes it unique and different from the responsibilities of a more typical primary care physician. That’s what makes it a tactical job.”
O’Connor first became President Biden’s physician in 2009, when he was appointed Physician to the Vice President, after having served on the White House Medical Unit, a subunit of the White House Military Office, for more than two years during the George W. Bush administration.
With the change in administration, and the arrival of President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden, O’Connor expected to serve out the remaining six months of his three-year tour, and then return to the Army for one last “out there with the guys” posting. Before joining the White House, O’Connor served 22 years in the Army, including tours of duty with the 82nd Airborne Division, 75th Ranger Regiment, and United States Army Special Operations Command. In 2010, he was designated Master Flight Surgeon. Most of his academic publications have been on what is referred to as “point of wounding” care, or “care under fire.”
Instead, in February 2009, then-Vice President Biden picked O’Connor to be the next Physician to the Vice President. “Even then I expected to serve another six months and then go back to the Army,” O’Connor recalled. “But then he offered me the job and, as a personal loyalty thing, I agreed to stay for the length of his term. Then they got re-elected and at that point I was all in.”
Following the conclusion of President’s Biden’s tenure as Vice President in the Obama Administration, O’Connor continued to serve as the Biden family physician.
“President Biden and the First Lady have chosen to continue to place their trust and confidence in me as their physician,” O’Connor said. “For that, I am genuinely humbled, and will serve at their pleasure.”
O’Connor will remain on faculty at GW while serving at the White House, though he will transfer from his GW MFA position to be a full-time SMHS employee.
“My clinical practice will have to be scaled back dramatically,” O’Connor said. At the GW MFA, O’Connor was the founding director of the Center for Executive Medicine, and served as the medical director for international and diplomatic affairs, where he provided care for a large number of diplomats from many of the embassies around town.&
This time around, O’Connor knows his new post has as indeterminant timeline, joking that, because everyone serves at the pleasure of the president, “every day my badge still works is a pleasant surprise.”