Obama's Surgeon General Pick Says U.S. Cannot Continue on Current Healthcare Path

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , July 13, 2009

Regina Benjamin, MD, a physician who practices family medicine at her clinic in the small town of Bayou La Batre, AL, was nominated yesterday by President Barack Obama as U.S. surgeon general.

In her opening remarks at the White House Rose Garden, Benjamin, 52, reflected on her desire—if confirmed as the surgeon general—to "work toward a solution" to the healthcare crisis. "I promise to communicate directly with the American people to help guide them through whatever changes may come with healthcare reform," she said.

"Public health issues are very personal to me," Benjamin said. She reflected how health issues had impacted her family—how her father with diabetes and hypertension had passed away, how a brother died of an HIV-related illness, and how her mother died of lung cancer after years of smoking.

"My family is not here with me today—at least not in person—because of preventable diseases. While I cannot change my family's past, I can be a voice in the movement to improve our nation's healthcare and our nation's health for the future."

"These are trying times in the healthcare field, and as a nation we have reached a sobering realization: our healthcare system simply cannot continue on the path that we're on," Benjamin said. "Millions of Americans can't afford health insurance or they don't have the basic health services available where they live."

Benjamin has had an opportunity to see firsthand how the lack of insurance and availability of healthcare has impacted individuals, especially in underserved communities, following her medical education at the University of Alabama and Morehouse College.

She spoke about how she returned to Alabama, her home state, as part of her obligation to the National Health Services Corp. "The Corp paid for my medical school education and in return [I went to] an area that desperately needed physicians. I stayed."

She founded a clinic in Bayou La Batre (population 2,500) in 1990. "However it's not been an easy road," she said.

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