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Obama Taps Alabama Doctor to Be Surgeon General

Dr. Regina Benjamin was first black woman to be on AMA's board

MONDAY, July 13, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- President Barack Obama announced Monday that he has nominated a rural Alabama family physician to be the United States' next surgeon general.

Dr. Regina Benjamin -- the first black woman and youngest doctor ever elected to the American Medical Association's board -- made headlines for her resolve to rebuild her nonprofit medical clinic after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In a Monday afternoon press conference reported by the Washington Post, Obama said Benjamin has a long history of putting her mostly lower-income patients first.

"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," Obama said. "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."

Benjamin has a long list of awards and achievements, including the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights, which she recieved in 1998. She was also awarded the distinguished service medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Senate must confirm Benjamin's nomination for Surgeon General, who acts as the people's health advocate, the Associated Press reported.

For her part, Benjamin told reporters at the press conference that becoming the Surgeon General would be "a physician's dream."

"Public health issues are very personal to me. My father died with diabetes and hypertension. My older brother and only sibling died at age 44 of HIV-related illness. My mother died of lung cancer because as a young girl she wanted to smoke, just like her twin brother could," Benjamin said.

"My family's not here with me today -- at least not in person -- because of preventable diseases," she added. "While I cannot change my family's past, I can be a voice in the movement to improve our nation's health care and our nation's health for the future."

In a news release, the American Medical Association said it is "delighted" with Benjamin's nomination.

"Dr. Benjamin's most important qualification for surgeon general is her deep commitment to her patients. We are particularly gratified to see her recognized for her work caring for patients in rural Alabama, and for her commitment to rebuilding her rural health clinic in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She is a true professional who puts her patients first," the AMA said.

More information

Find out more at the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General.

SOURCE: Washington Post,Associated Press, July 13, 2009, news release, American Medical Association
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