U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin has announced her plans to resign from her post as “America’s doctor” in July.
During her four-year tenure, Dr. Benjamin focused her attention on disease prevention and the promotion of healthy lifestyles, particularly among minorities; and, like many other surgeon generals, preached on the ills of smoking.
“I loved serving as [surgeon general], putting prevention in all we do,” Benjamin posted on her Twitter account June 13. “I leave next month confident we created a more healthy [and] fit nation.”
Benjamin was nominated for the post in July 2009 and approved by the Senate in October of that year. President Obama praised her for her selfless work on behalf of poorer, rural communities, and her advocacy on prevention and wellness as a weapon against serious diseases and conditions. Benjamin has been widely lauded for founding a rural clinic in her home state of Alabama, and for keeping it afloat after it was destroyed three times by hurricanes and a fire.
The physician said her dedication to public health issues came from a personal place.
“My father died with diabetes and hypertension,” Benjamin said in 2009. “My older brother, and only sibling, died at age 44 of HIV-related illness. My mother died of lung cancer, because as a young girl, she wanted to smoke just like her twin brother could. My Uncle Buddy, my mother's twin, who's one of the few surviving Black World War II prisoners of war, is at home right now, on oxygen, struggling for each breath because of the years of smoking.”
“My family is not here with me today, at least not in person, because of preventable diseases,” she added. “While I can’t…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 for the future.”
And indeed, Benjamin was that voice, promoting anti-childhood obesity programs, overseeing a report that documented the damaging effects of smoking and even second-hand smoke, and even daring to make some audacious comments on the factors that prevent some Black women to eschew exercise–fear of perspiration and the its potential adverse impact on expensive hairstyles.
Dr. Benjamin came to the Obama administration after a noteworthy career: She was the first physician younger than 40 and the first African-American woman to be elected to the American Medical Association's Board of Trustees. She also served as president of the American Medical Association Education and Research Foundation and chair of the AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs.
She is a former associate dean for rural health at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine in Mobile and a past chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Xavier University in New Orleans, her medical degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and an MBA from Tulane University. She attended Morehouse School of Medicine and completed her family medicine residency in Macon, Ga.
Civil rights and other health care groups praised Benjamin for her accomplishments as surgeon general.
“Surgeon General Regina Benjamin has been an unwavering advocate for proactive policies that would create a healthy America for all,” Roslyn M. Brock, chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors, said in a statement. “Her leadership and legacy as
‘America’s Doctor’ will serve as a cornerstone of the NAACP’s continued efforts to ensure everyone has equal access to affordable, high-quality health care and to end racially disparate health outcomes.”
Dr. Benjamin was the recipient of the NAACPs 2011 Chairman’s Award presented during the 42nd NAACP Image Awards. She also helped launch the NAACP’s Childhood Obesity Advocacy Manual.