Is Gov. DeSantis’ pick for FL surgeon general qualified, based on state law?

Florida's surgeon general
Florida's new surgeon general. Credit: University of Florida

Amid the allegations, scrutiny and bad press over Gov. DeSantis’ pick for Florida’s surgeon general comes a fundamental question:

Is Dr. Scott Rivkees qualified, by law, for the job?

The University of Florida professor and chair of pediatrics has lofty academic degrees, medical training and a list of accomplishments, according to biographical material.

But the state law says this:

“The State Surgeon General must be a physician….who has advanced training or extensive experience in public health administration.”

That got Tampa physician Tazia Stagg curious. She describes herself as a Florida native, a University of South Florida graduate and now a physician board-certified in General Preventive Medicine and Public Health.

The advanced training referenced in Florida law would mean an educational degree such as a master’s or doctorate in public health, and experience in a public health job, Stagg says. “From what I have read, Dr. Rivkees has attained neither of these,” she says.

She wrote to the governor’s appointment office last week, just a few days after Gov. DeSantis appointed Rivkees for the job of surgeon general and secretary of the Florida Department of Health.

“I heard about the nomination of Dr. Scott Rivkees for State Surgeon General,” Stagg wrote.

“I have reviewed his professional background and am fairly certain that he does not meet the minimal requirements for the position specified in the Florida Statutes. I’m writing in hopes of helping the Governor and team understand what to look for in a potential nominee, to ensure that our next Surgeon General is eligible and well prepared for this important position.”

Stagg said she was familiar with the state requirements for the job because similar issues came up in prior appointments for Florida’s surgeon general.

Stagg said she told the governor’s appointment office that:

“A well-qualified candidate for appointment to the position of State Surgeon General would have, along with a Florida medical license, the following credentials: (a) relevant education, reflected by a master’s degree in public health; (b) successful training, reflected by board certification in a specialty called Public Health and General Preventive Medicine; and (c) relevant experience, with some years’ employment in a public health setting.

If such a well-qualified candidate isn’t available, here’s how to ask a Florida-licensed doctor about whether he or she meets the statutory requirements:

1) Have you received advanced training in public health administration? If so, please describe the training.

2) Do you feel that you have extensive experience in public health administration? If so, please describe your public health administration experience, including position(s) held and employment dates.”

Stagg said she’s never heard back from the governor’s office. She said she later wrote to the Lieutenant Governor’s office about the issue but hasn’t heard back.

Meanwhile, the state Senate has already decided that it will not hold confirmation hearings for Rivkees during the current legislative session.

That decision came after news accounts revealed that Rivkees “has been embroiled in legal squabbles and investigations,” including a sexual harassment investigation while at UF in 2012 and allegations related to inappropriate comments,” according to the News Service of Florida.



Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.


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