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Surgeon general nominee introduced

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Obama’s pick for the nation’s next surgeon general is Regina Benjamin, a family practice doctor who founded a rural health clinic in the fishing community of Bayou La Batre, Ala., and who was the first African American woman board member of the American Medical Association and president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama.

“When people couldn’t pay, she didn’t charge them,” Obama said July 13 in the White House Rose Garden. “When the clinic wasn’t making money, she didn’t take a salary for herself.”

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, praised Obama for his selection of Benjamin, calling her an African American Catholic public servant.

“President Obama picked the right person to be the new surgeon general,” Donohue said. “Dr. Benjamin is a hero to all those victimized by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Her tireless and selfless efforts are a model for all physicians.”

Donohue noted that Pope Benedict XVI awarded Benjamin a medal for distinguished service, and she received the National Caring Award, which was inspired by Mother Teresa. Benjamin also has spent time doing missionary work in Honduras.

“Church was always a very important part of my life,” Benjamin told Catholic Digest. “I believe I am carrying on the healing ministry of Christ. I feel obligated to help continue His works.”

But on the issue of abortion, Benjamin apparently is pro-choice, LifeNews.com reported. In 1996, the website reported, Benjamin “spoke in favor of a vote by the AMA’s governing body to ‘urge medical schools to expand their curriculum’ to teach ‘more about abortion.'”

“We are adopting a policy that medical school curriculum provide the legal, ethical, and psychological principles associated with abortion so students can learn all the factors involved,” she said, according to the Associated Press.

On other issues, she has been applauded by both liberals and conservatives.

Benjamin founded the Bayou La Batre Health Clinic for the village’s 2,500 residents in 1990 and has rebuilt it three times — following Hurricane Georges in 1998, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and a fire most recently.

Obama called Benjamin a “relentless promoter” of programs to fight preventable illness, and she cited the toll of preventable illness as the reason her family was not with her in the Rose Garden.

Benjamin’s father died with diabetes and high blood pressure, her mother died of lung cancer after taking up smoking as a girl, and her brother and only sibling died at age 44 of an HIV-related illness. Her mother’s twin brother could not attend because he was at home “struggling for each breath” after a lifetime of smoking, CNN.com reported.

“I cannot change my family’s past, but I can be a voice to improve our nation’s health for the future,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin, 52, received her medical degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and her training was financed by a federal program, the National Health Service Corps, in which medical students agree to work in areas lacking doctors in exchange for free tuition. She also earned an MBA from Tulane University.

Time magazine earlier named Benjamin one of the “Nation’s 50 Future Leaders Age 40 and Under,” and she has been featured in the national media often as she has served on various boards and committees while operating her busy rural health clinic.

If confirmed by the Senate, Benjamin said she aspires “to be America’s doctor, America’s family physician.”
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.

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