Matt Wetherell ’12 Interviews Former Surgeon General Koop
Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop was part of the inspiration for Matt Wetherell ’12’s senior thesis in political science, which investigates the changing role of the office over time.
“I was thinking about the fact that I didn’t know who the current Surgeon General even was, nor did my friends at Haverford,” says Wetherell, who is pre-med. “But growing up I remember hearing a lot about Dr. Koop and his fight against AIDS.”
Wetherell couldn’t have imagined he’d one day find himself on the 96-year-old legend’s couch.
While home in New Hampshire over winter break, Wetherell landed an interview with the retired pediatric surgeon and government figure who now lives in Hanover.
Koop had been ill, and so while Wetherell had contacted the institute he founded at Dartmouth in hopes of arranging a meeting, it didn’t seem likely. “Then one day I got a call saying he was feeling well,” says Wetherell. “And they asked if I could be there at 3 p.m.”
His thesis, focused more broadly on the ways government bureaus gain and lose power, looks at the Surgeon General’s role as a case study. That afternoon, Wetherell was able to ask Dr. Koop face-to-face about his time in office. Wetherell said Koop is an important part of his research because of his caliber of leadership, which subsequent Surgeons General haven’t necessarily been able to replicate.
And thesis aside, Koop is a role model for Wetherell, a public health advocate who hopes to one day practice pediatrics or another primary care specialty. “I ended the interview just by telling him how much he inspired me, and asking for advice,” says Wetherell. Koop’s response: “You can, if you have the desire and the compassion and the integrity.”
“To hear ‘you can do it’ coming from this man . . .” says Wetherell, trailing off. “Well, it was pretty cool.” Wetherell says the interview gave him an extra dose of enthusiasm for his project. “That’ll definitely be one of the highlights of my year,” he says. “And now I want to write something that would make him proud.”
—Mara Miller ’10