Public health now has an opportunity “unlike any time in recent history,” according our nation’s top doctor.

Last Friday, U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy joined APHA for a Google+ Hangout town hall event to celebrate both National Public Health Week and Public Health Student Day. Murthy discussed many of the nation’s most critical health issues, but also aimed to inspire the next generation of public health workers.

“People are waking up to the fact that public health is relevant, it’s important and it’s not only something that can’t be ignored, but it’s something that all sectors have to participate in,” Murthy said. “It’s what allows us to provide as a country. And as people see that, it makes the role of public health leaders more prominent.

“I’m excited that so many of you have decided to dedicate your lives to public health.”

APHA Student Assembly Chair Suparna Navale provided opening remarks and former APHA Student Assembly Chair Tamar Klaiman moderated the hourlong discussion, while Murthy also answered questions on how to improve the nation’s health. Topics ranged from Zika to the Flint water crisis to political issues.

Professional development was another popular theme throughout the discussion. Murthy said that he’s learned — from both his experiences and those of his peers — that students should always ask themselves: What’s next?

“When I finished residency training I actually didn’t know what I wanted to do next … It wasn’t necessarily an easy period because my family thought I was partially unemployed. They were worried about me because they thought I was maybe going off the deep end and never get a full-time job again. But the truth is that time was invaluable. It helped me understand what inspired me.

“I really do believe our greatest challenge, as especially in our early years, is that we underestimate how much change we’re capable of creating in the world. So what matters more than anything else is understanding what inspires you and excites you, because that’s ultimately what you need to pursue.”