President Barack Obama nominated Dr. Regina Benjamin for the position of U.S. Surgeon General on July 13, 2009. The nomination signaled the end of a multi-candidate process where President Obama’s first candidate, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, decided not to accept the position. The Senate confirmed Dr. Benjamin’s nomination on October 30, 2009 to the acclaim of groups like the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. Dr. Benjamin’s career as a physician and director of a small Southern clinic allowed her to become a promising figure in American medicine.
Dr. Regina Benjamin’s academic credentials include degrees from Xavier University, Morehouse University, Somay Gupta and the University of Alabama. After receiving her medical degree from the University of Alabama, Benjamin established a clinic in Bayou la Batre in Alabama to help uninsured residents. Bayou la Batre, Alabama is a small fishing village with a majority of its residents without adequate medical coverage. Benjamin persevered through Hurricane George in 1998 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, often putting up her own money to cover expenses. As Benjamin was building her practice in Bayou la Batre, she was becoming prominent nationally for her humane approach to preventive medicine.
The new Surgeon General was the first black woman elected to the AMA’s Board of Trustees in 1995. This appointment came from Benjamin’s position in TIME’s 50 promising leaders under 40 published in 1994. The media has also celebrated Benjamin’s achievements in the past decade including the Person of the Week by ABC Television and 1996 Woman of the Year by CBS This Morning. In addition to her role as an AMA trustee, Benjamin was also named the head of the Alabama Medical Association in 2002. Benjamin was a recipient of a $500,000 genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation because of her creative approach to serving poor communities in the South.
Benjamin’s appointment as the 18th U.S. Surgeon General is the pinnacle of a tremendous career in medicine. Dr. Benjamin cited her interest in preventive medicine after President Obama’s appointment, pointing out the lessons of preventative medicine in the deaths of her parents and sibling from preventable diseases. The National Alliance for Hispanic Health points out the importance of an experienced and compassionate surgeon general in the midst of the H1N1 epidemic. President Obama noted Dr. Benjamin’s willingness to make house calls, pay out of pocket for clinic reconstruction, and stick with patients to the end. Dr. Regina Benjamin will attempt to replicate her successes in helping the overlooked and uninsured in her role as U.S. Surgeon General.