The President announced his nominee for the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, today at the White House. Dr. Benjamin has an extensive and distinguished career in medicine. She is the Founder and CEO of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in Alabama, which aims to provide primary care to people of any age regardless of their financial situation. She previously served as Chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States, and as the Associate Dean for Rural Health at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. Additionally, she was chosen as President of the Medical Association of Alabama in 2002, becoming the first African-American woman to be president of a state medical society. She was also the first African-American woman and physician under 40 to be elected to the American Medical Association Board of Trustees. She received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 1998, among other honors.
The President emphasized this experience in his remarks
, chronicling her dedication to providing health care for her rural community in the face of adversity:
And that's why, even though she could have left the state to make more money as a specialist or as a doctor in a wealthier community, Regina Benjamin returned to Alabama and opened a small clinic in Bayou La Batre.
When people couldn't pay, she didn't charge them. When the clinic wasn't making money, she didn't take a salary for herself. When Hurricane George destroyed the clinic in 1998, she made house calls to all her patients while it was rebuilt. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed it again and left most of her town homeless, she mortgaged her house and maxed out her credit cards to rebuild that clinic for a second time. She tended to those who had been wounded in the storm, and when folks needed medicine, she asked the pharmacist to send the bill her way.
And when Regina's clinic was about to open for the third time, and a fire burned it to the ground before it could serve the first patient, well, you can guess what Dr. Benjamin did. With help from her community, she is rebuilding it again. One disabled patient brought her an envelope with $20 inside. Another elderly man said simply, "Maybe I can help. I got a hammer."
For nearly two decades, Dr. Regina Benjamin has seen in a very personal way what is broken about our health care system. She's seen an increasing number of patients who've had health insurance their entire lives suddenly lose it because they lost their jobs or because it's simply become too expensive. She's been a relentless promoter of prevention and wellness programs, having treated too many costly and -- diseases and complications that didn't have to happen. And she's witnessed the shortage of primary care physicians in the rural and underserved areas where she works.
But for all that she's seen and all the tremendous obstacles that she has overcome, Regina Benjamin also represents what's best about health care in America -- doctors and nurses who give and care and sacrifice for the sake of their patients; those Americans who would do anything to heal a fellow citizen.
(President Barack Obama with Surgeon General nominee Dr. Regina Benjamin in the Rose Garden of the White House, July 13, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
As the President explained, through this personal experience working with the poor and uninsured, Dr. Benjamin understands firsthand the urgent need for health care reform. As Surgeon General, she will be the people’s health advocate, and will play a key role in health care reform. In her remarks, Dr. Benjamin explained how she sees her role:
My hope, if confirmed as Surgeon General, is to be America's doctor, America's family physician. As we work toward a solution to this health care crisis, I promise to communicate directly with the American people to help guide them through whatever changes may come with health care reform.
(Dr. Regina Benjamin, President Barack Obama's Surgeon General nominee, at the announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, July 13, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)