Monday, July 13, 2009

Dr. Regina Benjamin

Is president Obama's choice for the job of the U.S. Surgeon General:

When Hurricane Katrina wrecked the little clinic here in the coastal backwaters of Alabama, Dr. Regina Benjamin laid out medical charts to dry in the post-storm sun and hopped in a pickup truck to check on her patients.

When she had trouble treating the growing influx of Southeast Asian immigrants in the shrimping community because she could not understand them, she went to a nearby Vietnamese pool hall to find an interpreter.

Benjamin, 52, was nominated by President Barack Obama on Monday to be U.S. surgeon general, pledging to take her fight from a rural, impoverished outpost to the top tier of American medicine so that "no one falls through the cracks."

She said she would combat preventable diseases. Her father died with diabetes and high blood pressure, her only brother of HIV. Her mother died of lung cancer because as a girl "she wanted to smoke just like her twin brother," an uncle now on oxygen.

"I cannot 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," Benjamin said. "I want to be sure that no one falls through the cracks as we improve our health care system."

Pushed by the diverse patient mix of Bayou La Batre — white, black and, increasingly, immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos — Benjamin has emerged as a national leader in the fight to close gaps in health.

She became the first black woman and the first doctor under age 40 elected to the American Medical Association's board of trustees, and in 2002 became the first black woman to head a state medical society.

"For all the tremendous obstacles that she has overcome, Regina Benjamin also 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 in the White House Rose Garden.

She sounds like a fighter and someone in touch with the health needs of the poorest Americans. I haven't been able to find out about her opinions on issues such as reproductive choice and women's health care issues in general.