Surgeon General Pick "Humbled" By Honor

Dr Regina Benjamin Barack Obama
President Obama formally nominated Regina Benjamin of Alabama to become the next United States surgeon general Monday morning, stating that she "represents what's best about health care in America."

"If there's anyone who understands the urgency of meeting this [health care] challenge in a personal and powerful way, it is the woman who will become our nation's next surgeon general, Dr. Regina Benjamin," said Mr. Obama.

Benjamin said she felt "honored" and "humbled" after being chosen for the post.

"This is a physician's dream," she said.

Having lost most of her family members to preventable diseases, such as HIV, diabetes, and lung cancer, Benjamin said she feels a personal connection to public health issues.

"While I can't -- or 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," she said.

The family physician is most famous for the role she played in the wake of Hurrican Katrina, when she was determined to rebuild her rural health clinic in Bayou La Batre, Ala., despite hurricane and fire destruction.

The clinic serves 4,400 patients who would be hard-pressed to find care elsewhere. Byron Pitts of CBS News profiled the doctor back in 2006.

Last September, Benjamin received a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" for her efforts to rebuild the clinic.

"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," Mr. Obama said Monday. "She's seen an increasing number of patients who have had health insurance their entire lives suddenly lose it because they lost their jobs or because it's simply become too expensive.

Citing the difficulties she faced in rebuilding her clinic and finding ways to provide care to the uninsured, Benjamin said, "It should not be this hard for doctors and other health care providers to care for their patients. It shouldn't be this expensive for Americans to get health care in this country."

In addition to expressing her concern about America's health care system, Benjamin touched upon some goals if confirmed as surgeon general.

"My hope, if confirmed as surgeon general, is to be America's doctor, America's family physician," said Benjamin. "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."

Benjamin became President of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama in 2002, becoming the first black woman to head a state medical society and received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights.

She is the Immediate Past-Chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States, and previously served as Associate Dean for Rural Health at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine.

For more information on Benjamin, you can view her profile on the McArthur Foundation Web Site.