- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

President Obama on Monday named Dr. Regina Benjamin to be U.S. surgeon general, lauding her work as a family physician helping the poor in rural Alabama.

Dr. Benjamin cited her own family’s health care struggle in promising to be “America’s doctor.” If she is confirmed by the Senate to the nation’s top public health post, Dr. Benjamin will face the ongoing challenge of the H1N1 influenza pandemic as the flu season nears.

Mr. Obama called her experience “very impressive” but said nothing was more relevant to the post than the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic she founded in Alabama.

He detailed her philanthropy - from rebuilding the clinic three times after major hurricanes and a fire to offering financial help for people who couldn’t afford their prescriptions - and offered a line similar to one used to describe his decision not to take a top job at a private law firm when leaving Harvard Law.

“Even though she could have left the state to make more money as a specialist or as a doctor in a wealthier community,” she chose to start the clinic in a poor community, he said.

“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.

Dr. Benjamin told the president she wants patients to have a voice through her surgeon general’s office and called the nomination “a physician’s dream.”

She also said her family wasn’t with her because of “preventable disease” - her father died from diabetes and hypertension, her brother died at age 44 of HIV-related illness and her mother died of lung cancer. Her last remaining relative, her uncle, is on oxygen as a result of years of smoking.

“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,” she said, also offering support for Mr. Obama’s health care reform plan.

In 1995, she became the first black woman to be elected to the American Medical Association Board of Trustees and earned the same honor by serving on the state medical association. She has served as Associate Dean for Rural Health at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine.

Dr. Benjamin, who also has an MBA, has been recognized with multiple awards, including the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 1998 and Time magazine’s “Nation’s 50 Future Leaders Age 40 and Under.”

The surgeon general’s post was left unfilled for months after Mr. Obama initially considered CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

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