Friday, July 17, 2009

Our Next Surgeon General

I first met Dr. Regina Benjamin in 1998 when we both spent a year together as Rockefeller Foundation Next Generation Leaders. She is an incredible doctor and social change activist, who embodies what public service should be. For almost 20 years, Regina has run a small clinic in a Gulf Coast fishing community in rural Alabama called the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic. The clinic provides health care for the entire community, focusing as much on preventive care as on direct services. In Bayou La Batre, she has served a population as diverse as Los Angeles'--longtime residents, new Asian and Latino immigrants, seniors, babies, and the homeless. She is a tireless, focused advocate and a gifted doctor. I remember many talks over the years with Regina, in which she has talked about the importance of preventive care and as she rebuilt her clinic after hurricanes twice (and most recently during Katrina) destroyed her clinic. When friends felt powerless after Hurricane Katrina and didn't know where to turn, I helped raise money for her clinic, knowing we could trust deeply where Regina would use the donations.

Over her career, Regina became the first woman to head up a state Medical Assocation and then was the youngest member of the American Medical Association Board of Trustees and the first African-American woman to achieve this position.

Well, the best part of this story is this: President Barack Obama nominated Regina this week to be our nation's next Surgeon General. We are privileged to live in a nation where a committed small-town doctor can rise to the kind of success that Regina has had and I can't wait for her to be America's top doc. Way to go, my friend! (for more on Regina, check out this article from Newsweek and this bio from the National Institute of Health)