Born to a poor Hispanic family in New York City, Dr. Richard Carmona experienced homelessness, hunger and bleak prospects for a future education and economic opportunity. The child of parents who emigrated to the United States and struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse, Rich learned tough early lessons about economic disparities and social injustice – an experience he has never forgotten, and one that has given him an understanding of how culture, health, education and economic status shape our country.
Like his siblings and many of his friends, Rich dropped out of high school. With few skills and little education, he enlisted in the Army and went to Vietnam. Military service gave him discipline and a drive to succeed that he still carries today. In order to apply for Special Forces and become a combat medic, he earned his high school equivalency degree. Rich left the Army a combat-decorated veteran, with two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, a combat medical badge and numerous other decorations to mark his service.
When he returned home from Vietnam, Rich became the first member of his family to earn a college degree. Through open enrollment reserved for returning veterans, he attended Bronx Community College and earned an Associate of Arts degree. Later he went to the University of California, San Francisco, and worked as a registered nurse while he earned a bachelors of science degree. Two years later, Rich completed his medical degree – receiving the prestigious gold-headed cane as the school's top graduate.
Trained in general and vascular surgery, Dr. Carmona also completed a National Institutes of Health-sponsored fellowship in trauma, burns, and critical care. A Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, Dr. Carmona was recruited jointly by the Tucson Medical Center and the University of Arizona to start and direct Southern Arizona’s first regional trauma care system. He, his wife Diane and their children relocated to Tucson.
Dr. Carmona would later become chairman of the State of Arizona Southern Regional Emergency Medical System, a professor of surgery, public health and family and community medicine at the University of Arizona, and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department surgeon.
While continuing his medical career, Rich's call to service led him to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in which he has served for more than 25 years as a deputy sheriff, detective, department surgeon and SWAT Team Leader. In 1992, he rappelled from a helicopter to rescue a paramedic stranded on a mountainside when their medevac helicopter crashed during a snow storm, inspiring a made-for-TV movie. In the course of his service, Rich received the National Top Cop Award and was named the National SWAT Officer of the Year.
In 2002, Carmona was nominated by the president and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate to become the 17th Surgeon General of the United States. As Surgeon General, Carmona focused on prevention, health disparities and emergency preparedness to protect the nation against epidemics and bio-terrorism. He also issued a groundbreaking report on the dangers of second-hand smoke.
While very successful as Surgeon General, he unfortunately also experienced the divisive politics that continue to plague Washington today -- where the desire to score political points has become more important than solving problems, creating jobs or providing for those in need. That experience guides his current mission to become Arizona's next senator and change how Washington works.
In 2007, Dr. Carmona testified before Congress that political appointees had put partisan politics ahead of science -- especially when it came to the public’s health -- in hopes that shining a light on how the administration operated could bring change. He testified: “The job of surgeon general is to be the doctor of the nation, not the doctor of a political party.”
Knowing he stood up and did the right thing, Rich returned to Tucson and became vice chairman Canyon Ranch, a nationally renowned health and wellness company. He also serves as president of the nonprofit Canyon Ranch Institute. While Rich also resumed his service as a Pima County deputy sheriff, he became the first Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.