Posted on 29. Jul, 2009 by admin in Uncategorized
by Shanita Bigelow
If confirmed, Dr. Regina Benjamin, a rural physician and 2008 recipient of the MacArthur “genius” grant, will become the third African American and the third woman to hold the position of U.S. Surgeon General. On Monday, President Barack Obama selected Benjamin to be the nation’s leading spokesperson on public health.
Benjamin is the result of hard work, dedication and a strong determination. “She is an example. This is a message for young people, a message to those who are wondering what they want to
be or do,” said Dr. Norman Francis, president of Xavier University of Louisiana where Benjamin earned her bachelor’s degree.
Xavier, a small, Catholic, historically black university was founded by St. Katherine Drexel, who went to New Orleans on a mission. Determined to aid in the education of African Americans, she founded Xavier University in the 1920’s.
“[Katherine Drexel] came to New Orleans to fill the need. Regina did the same thing. She went to Bayou La Batre to fill the need for healthcare,” Francis continued. This is also a message to parents: “The best contribution they can make to the lives of their children is to invest in quality education,” Francis stated. Benjamin, the first African American woman to be president of a state medical association, served as president of the State of Alabama Medical Association from 2002-2003. She also served as chair of the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs and as a member of the AMA’s Board of Trustees. She was the first physician under 40 as well as the first African American woman board member. She also has a long list of honors and distinctions that qualify her for the job.
In 1990, she founded Bayou La Batre Health Clinic in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. The clinic serves Bayou La Batre’s diverse population of “whites, blacks and Asians” (about 2,500) people who “work for themselves, scrape by, and can’t usually afford health insurance,” said President Obama during his announcement on Monday, July 13.
“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. 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. She tended to those who had been wounded in the storm, and when folks needed medicine, she asked the pharmacist to send the bill her way,” Obama added.
As healthcare reform weighs heavy on the minds of all Americans, President Obama asserted, “[t]he status quo on health care is no longer an option for the United States of America. Dr. Benjamin will be a part of this proposed change.”
“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. My Uncle Buddy, my mother’s twin, who’s one of the few surviving black World War II prisoners of war, is
at home right now, on oxygen, struggling for each breath because of the years of smoking,” said Benjamin at the President’s announcement on Monday.
“My family is not here with me today, at least not in person, because of preventable diseases. While I can’t…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,” Benjamin continued.
“African Americans make up a little over 13 percent of the population, but have a disproportionately higher rate of obesity and chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes. With the nomination of Dr. Benjamin, there is a renewed sense hope for the American people as the voice of America’s public health comes from someone who “represents what’s best about health care in America – doctors and nurses who give and care and sacrifice for the sake of their patients…,” Obama said.