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Navy Doctor Part Of A Tradition Of Military Physicians Serving Presidents

Dr. Sean Conley, physician to President Trump, talks with reporters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday.
Image credit: Evan Vucci

Dr. Sean Conley, who’s treating President Trump’s case of COVID-19, is the latest in a long line of active-duty military officers who have been in charge of treating presidents.

“Over the past 24 hours, the president has continued to improve,” Dr. Conley said Monday afternoon at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, just outside Washington in Bethesda, Md. “He’s met or exceeded all standard hospital discharge criteria.”

However, he added that Trump may not be “entirely out of the woods yet.”

The president tweeted earlier that he would be heading back to the White House on Monday evening.

Since the president is the commander-in-chief of the military, this creates the unusual situation where the president is the ultimate boss of the military personnel treating him.

Dr. Conley, 40, is a commander in the Navy and has been the president’s physician for a little over two years.

Dr. Conley is also the head of the White House Medical Unit, which has a staff of about two dozen, and is in turn part of the White House Military Office. Dr. Conley and members of his staff work out of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House. They travel with the president and are in position to assist him at any time.

However, when the president receives his annual medical checkup, or needs care for a potentially serious illness, the president heads to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

This tradition of a military doctor serving the president dates back well over a century. A Navy officer, Dr. Presley Rixey, was considered the first to serve full-time as the White House doctor, assuming the role under President William McKinley. Dr. Rixey was with McKinley and when the president was shot in Buffalo on Sept. 6, 1901, and was in charge of his treatment until he died eight days later.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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