Regina M. Benjamin would rather take your food than your money, but that’s not a bad thing in her patients’ opinions.
Ever paid your medical physician with buckets of shrimp when you were short on your co-pay or didn’t have insurance? Well that’s what the residents of Bayou la Batre did when hurricanes battered the Alabama fishing village and money was scarce. But now their savior, Regina M. Benjamin, 52, might become a fixture in America with President Barack Obama’s nomination for her to become Surgeon General.
Now you know what the Surgeon General is, right? Not only are they the person to divvy out warnings to pregnant women on packages of cigarettes and alcohol, but they act as the overall head of the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC) and is the spokesperson on all matters of public health in the federal government. An example of that would be the recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus, but since the president’s first nomination Sanjay Gupta pulled out three months ago, we were basically left with no top health official to brief us on the matter.
President Obama believes she is more than qualified for the position.
“For nearly two decades, Dr. Regina Benjamin has seen in a very personal way what is broken about our health-care system," he said. " She represents what’s best about health care in America: doctors and nurses who give and care and sacrifice for the sake of their patients.”
Benjamin is a family physician who has received many accolades for founding a non-profit clinic in her rural town. She was educated at Xavier University, Morehouse School of Medicine and the University of Alabama School of Medicine in a program that bartered her free tuition for promising to work in areas with few doctors.
Patients in her town recognize her for not only being a doctor, but for being persistent and dedicated to her work. In fact, many patients have come forward in light of her recent nomination to tell harrowing stories of Benjamin sloshing through floodwaters and hurricane wreckage to tend to her stranded patients. Others highlight the fact that she has rebuilt the non-profit clinic that caters to low income and non-insured families three times since a spontaneous fire and Katrina and following hurricanes battered the coast.
In 2002 she became the first Black woman to head a state medical society. She was also the first Black woman and the first doctor under 40 to be elected to the American Medical Association’s board of trustees.
If confirmed, Benjamin will be the powerhouse behind advocating change for preventive diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and HIV. This hits all too close to home for Benjamin, who told media that her mother, father and brother had all died from preventive diseases.
We hope that the senate approves this nomination. Anybody who is willing to take shrimp over money is a good woman.
– Christina Coleman
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