What to Know About Sean Conley, the White House Physician

As President Trump remains hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after testing positive for the coronavirus, one doctor is at the center of his treatment: Sean P. Conley, the White House physician.

Stepping out of the hospital with a team of doctors behind him on Saturday, Dr. Conley gave an optimistic update on Mr. Trump’s condition at a news conference. He said the president was “doing very well” and in “exceptionally good spirits” after spending Friday night at the hospital.

The news conference put a national spotlight on Dr. Conley, who offered a distinctly different outlook from what Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, told reporters later.

Here’s what we know about Dr. Conley.

Dr. Conley took on the role of White House physician in 2018 after Dr. Ronny L. Jackson was nominated to be secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Jackson had to withdraw his name from consideration for that post amid accusations of inappropriate workplace behavior and was subsequently promoted by Mr. Trump to the position of assistant to the president and chief White House medical adviser. He is now running for a House seat in Texas.

“We discussed it,” Dr. Conley said. “He asked about it. He’s not on it now.”

Dr. Conley was thrust into the national spotlight on Saturday after he gave an upbeat assessment about Mr. Trump that was later contradicted by the White House chief of staff, Mr. Meadows.

Dr. Conley also appeared to indicate that the president had first learned he had the virus on Wednesday rather than late Thursday night. Mr. Trump disclosed the test result on Twitter early Friday morning.

Dr. Conley later released a statement that he misspoke and clarified the timeline of the president’s illness.

Dr. Conley repeatedly said at the news conference that the president was not currently on supplemental oxygen but also declined to say whether Mr. Trump had ever been on oxygen.

Two people close to the White House said in interviews with The New York Times that the president had trouble breathing on Friday and that he received supplemental oxygen at the White House after his oxygen level dropped.

The White House has employed regular physicians since at least 1898, when President William McKinley hired a Navy physician, Presley Rixey. He cared for Mr. McKinley and his wife, said Ludwig M. Deppisch, a medical historian and author of “The White House Physician: A History From Washington to George W. Bush.”

Before then, Dr. Ludwig said, presidents had typically called on military or civilian doctors as needed. But the role of the White House physician as it exists today, a permanent government post for a medical doctor responsible for monitoring the president’s health on a continuing basis, was not enshrined in law by Congress until 1928, by which time the role had become more professionalized, he wrote.

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