Yesterday President Obama appointed Dr. Regina Benjamin, a family practice physician and the president of the Alabama Medical Association, as the new Surgeon General. In 1995, Dr. Benjamin became the first black woman and the youngest doctor to be elected to the board of the American Medical Association. Last year she was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant for treating patients in the Gulf south despite their inability to pay for health care and services.
Dr. Benjamin stands out because of her commitment to providing preventative health care to underprivileged populations in the rural south. In 1990 she founded a rural health care clinic in Bayou La Batre, in Alabama, which is a town of with a population of around 2,500. Many of the residents there lack health insurance and around a third are immigrants from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. She’s had to rebuild the clinic three times: in 1998 after Hurricane Georges, in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, and in January 2006 after a fire. While the clinic was being rebuilt she made house calls to patients – that’s true dedication right there.
Although she could’ve made more money working as a doctor elsewhere, in a wealthier community, Dr. Benjamin committed herself to providing a crucial service to people who desperately needed her in her Alabama clinic. Dr. Benjamin called her nomination a “physician’s dream” and she said, “I want to ensure that no one, no one, falls through the cracks as we improve our health care system.”
Dr. Benjamin is only the third woman to be the nation’s Surgeon General. Preceding her were Dr. Antonia Novello (1990-93) and Dr. Joycelyn Elders (1993-94). From 1995-97, Dr. Audrey Manley served as Acting Surgeon General. Congratulations Dr. Benjamin!