Later today President Obama will name Dr. Regina Benjamin as the nation’s Surgeon General. Benjamin has a reputation as a champion of the poor and uninsured. That was likely a factor in Obama’s decision as he continues press for health care reform.
A decade ago, the New York Times called her “angel in a white coat,” a country doctor who made house calls along the impoverished Gulf Coast, paid whatever her patients could scrounge. From those early days she has emerged as a national leader in the call to improve health disparities, pushed by the need in her own fishing community of Bayou La Batre, Ala., and its diverse patient mix – where immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos make up a growing part of the population. Her nonprofit clinic was rebuilt by volunteers after being destroyed by Katrina, only to burn down months later. Benjamin later told of her patients’ desperation that she rebuild again, recalling one woman who handed her an envelope with a $7 donation to help. “If she can find $7, I can figure out the rest,” Benjamin said last fall as she received a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” money she dedicated to finishing that job.
In January, Obama asked CNN personality Dr. Sanjay Gupta to be Surgeon General, but Gupta declined.