Explore the history of our state’s medical governors

Nick Perencevich of Concord is a semi-retired doctor.

Most of our New Hampshire governors throughout history have been lawyers, businessmen, and sometimes military leaders, but very rarely doctors.

US President Josiah Bartlett played by Martin Sheen in the popular television series West Wing is named after Dr. Josiah Bartlett, signer of the Declaration of Independence and later Governor of New Hampshire (1970-1794).

He and his contemporary medical colleagues, Joseph Warren in Boston and Benjamin Rush, were politically active in shaping our new nation. In the 1840s, Dr. Joseph Harper was Governor, followed briefly by Dr. Henry Quinby in 1909. Some people will still remember Dr. Robert Blood who was Governor during World War II. Governor Blood has worked hard during his two terms to ensure good medical care is provided to returning veterans.

Reading their stories, it seems that these past medical governors all brought hard work and honor to New Hampshire. In November, the Democratic challenger to our current governor will be a doctor.

The most recent story from a medical governor outside of New Hampshire shows Dr. Ralph Northam of Virginia whose term just ended this year. Virginia does not allow governors to serve more than one term at a time. John Kitzhaber of Oregon and John Dean of Vermont, both in office about 20 years ago, were both active doctors when elected and each served for 12 years. All had very good records of service as governors as well as previous elected positions.

When looking at America’s national leaders, a doctor’s record is more mixed. US Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was an ophthalmologist before being elected to the Senate. Unlike all of the doctors listed above, he was never elected to political office before becoming a US Senator.

When you look at the international scene, President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria was also an ophthalmologist. He, like Senator Paul, has never held office before. Their fathers were important political figures who paved the way for their sons.

Physician training emphasizes being a good listener, then trying to make the correct diagnosis, and then formulating a treatment plan that works for each patient. Understanding public health and the science of medicine are also prerequisites for becoming a qualified doctor. There’s nothing to stop another pan-epidemic, but I’d like to think we’ll be better prepared in New Hampshire if we have a medical governor.

There is no guarantee that this will be the case. However, we might want to avoid electing ophthalmologists with politically powerful fathers. Virginia Governor Northam navigated his state through COVID with stellar numbers. Medical Governors Kitzhaber and Dean also guided their states to be leaders in adult end-of-life legislation.

When we vote in November, we must carefully consider the backgrounds, training and ethics of those we are voting for. It is still rare for doctors to stand for election, but that does not mean that they are not qualified.

In general, in the United States and in New Hampshire, over time, the few medical governors have done a great job. The training, experience and performance of a person serving the public are of paramount importance.

Either way, be sure to vote this fall.

Comments are closed.