Dr. Regina Benjamin is Surgeon General choice
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Obama announced Monday his choice for surgeon general -- Dr. Regina Benjamin, a 52-year-old family practice doctor who has spent most of her career tending to the needs of poor patients in a Gulf Coast clinic in Alabama.
"When people couldn't pay, she didn't charge them," Obama said. "When the clinic wasn't making money, she didn't take a salary for herself."
He called Benjamin "a relentless promoter" of programs to fight preventable illness.
Benjamin cited the toll of preventable illness as the reason her family was not with her at the announcement: Her father died with diabetes and high blood pressure; her older brother and only sibling died at age 44 of an HIV-related illness; her mother died of lung cancer after taking up smoking as a girl; her mother's twin brother could not attend because he is at home "struggling for each breath" after a lifetime of smoking.
"I cannot change my family's past, but I can be a voice to improve our nation's health for the future," she said. Watch for more on Benjamin »
Benjamin received a bachelor's degree in 1979 from Xavier University of Louisiana, attended Morehouse School of Medicine from 1980 to 1982, and received a doctor of medicine degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1984.
She completed her residency in family practice at the Medical Center of Central Georgia in 1987.
Her medical training was paid for by a federal program, the National Health Service Corps, under which medical students promise to work in areas with few doctors in exchange for free tuition, one year of service for every year of paid tuition.
Benjamin founded the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in 1990 in the fishing village of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, and has served as its CEO since.
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From the Kaiser Foundation:
Regina Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A.
A graduate of Xavier University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and the University of Alabama School of Medicine, Dr. Regina Benjamin chose to return to the region that she grew up in, starting a family practice in Bayou la Batre, Alabama (a small shrimping village along the gulf coast). After several years moonlighting in emergency rooms and nursing homes to keep her practice open, and with an MBA from Tulane under her belt, Dr. Benjamin converted her medical office into a small rural health clinic dedicated to serving the large indigent population in her community.
Her extraordinary dedication and self-sacrifice have already won Dr. Benjamin national recognition. In 1995, she became the first African-American woman, and the first person under 40, to be elected to the American Medical Association (AMA) Board of Trustees. Dr. Benjamin also serves on the Board of Physicians for Human Rights.
Dr. Benjamin is a 1998 Mandela Award Winner, a former Kellogg National Fellow, has been featured as ABC Television's Person of the Week, and in 1996 was chosen by CBS This Morning as Woman of the Year.