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Regina Benjamin Picked as Surgeon General

Obama Says Alabama Doctor Is His Choice for U.S. Surgeon General
By Robert Lowes
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 13, 2009 -- President Barack Obama announced that he will nominate Regina Benjamin, MD, a family doctor in the shrimping village of Bayou La Batre, Ala., to be U.S. surgeon general. The appointment requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

In 1990, Benjamin founded the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic. She had to rebuild it three times after it was destroyed by Hurricane George in 1998, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and in a later fire.

Benjamin has served on the board of trustees of the American Medical Association. She's the immediate past chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the U.S. In 2008, the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation awarded her a $500,000 "genius grant," one of numerous honors she has received.

Working as a doctor in a diverse population that includes immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, as well as many residents lacking health insurance, makes her well qualified for the post of surgeon general, says Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association (no relation to Regina Benjamin).

"She brings the experience of someone who's actually had to manage a person's blood pressure and deal with people who can't afford health care," says Georges Benjamin, who has worked with her on health policy issues over the years.

Georges Benjamin says Regina Benjamin also comes well prepared to deal with the political challenges of the surgeon general's job, which will heat up as Obama and Congress attempt to forge a path toward health care reform. "There's no more political environment than the board of trustees of the AMA [American Medical Association]," says Georges Benjamin. "She understands bureaucracies and the political environment. She's dealt with state legislators in Alabama. She's presented for the AMA on Capitol Hill. She's no rookie."

In a news release posted today on the White House web site, Obama says, "Health care reform is about every family's health and the health of our economy. And if there's anyone who understands the urgency of meeting this challenge in a personal and powerful way, it's the woman who will become our nation's next surgeon general, Regina Benjamin."

Regina Benjamin received her MD from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She also holds an MBA from Tulane University.

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