Celebrating Black History Month: Dr. Benjamin

Posted Wednesday February 27, 2019

By Jude Luke

Dr. Regina Benjamin served as the 18th US Surgeon General from 2009-2013, making her the 3rd black woman in history to hold the rank. During her tenure, Dr. Benjamin was able to shift the focus of medicine in America from a reactive, treatment-based style, to a proactive style that understands the importance of lifestyle and socioeconomic factors on health. She frequently cites her brother’s death to HIV, father’s death to diabetes, and mother’s death to lung cancer as “preventable diseases” which have shaped her views.

Regina was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1956. After being the first person from her family to attend and graduate from medical school, Benjamin opened her own rural health clinic in Alabama. Over the course of Dr. Benjamin’s career, she served in multiple leadership positions in several organizations. Among these are, President of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama in 2002, member of the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association, member of the board of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

On July 13th, 2009, President Barack Obama announced the choice of Dr. Regina Benjamin to serve as the 18th US Surgeon General and Medical Director of the Public Health Service. Her nomination was passed unanimously, and Benjamin was also unanimously confirmed by the Senate on October 29th, 2009.

Shortly after her confirmation, Dr. Benjamin initiated major strides in her new role. In January 2010, Benjamin released her first publication as Surgeon General in which she highlighted the growing trend of obesity in America and proposed grassroots change to promote health and wellness of families. Of the many programs that Dr. Benjamin instituted focusing on issues like obesity and heart health, one particular program focused on black women’s health. The program encouraged women of color to go to the gym and not worry about “messing up their hair”. Regina Benjamin also launched a national effort for suicide prevention in 2012 which detailed many goals for reducing suicide over the next 10 years.

Dr. Regina Benjamin resigned from the position of US Surgeon General on July 16th, 2013. Over the course of her career, Dr. Benjamin was the recipient of numerous prestigious awards in medicine. Among these are the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 1998, the National Caring Award in 2000 from Pope Benedict XVI, TIME Magazine’s ‘Nation’s 50 Future Leaders Age 40 and Under’, and ‘Woman of the Year’ by CBS This Morning. Dr. Benjamin’s career and service set precedents for the future of health in this nation by focusing on factors like the social determinants of health and how lifestyle choices play a large role in health outcomes.

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