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Regina Benjamin ( 1956 - )  Category ( Medical_Doctors ) [suggest a correction]
 

Regina BenjaminDr. Regina Benjamin, the latest nominee for Surgeon General  has already proven one thing in her career - it's possible to become somebody even if you're nowhere.

Nowhere, that is, to the majority of physicians who would be appalled at the prospects of working in Bayou La Batre, AL, a small Gulf Coast town that is not only poverty stricken but hurricane prone.

In an age when some doctor's offices are showing up in architectural and "better living" magazines, Benjamin shares her building with a video store, a law office and a pool hall run by Vietnamese. Instead of suits, she wears white lab coats and Air Nikes. She has not only treated many of her patients for nothing, but even driven them home after their appointments.

"I am a firm believer that you bloom where you are planted," Benjamin once told Ebony Magazine.

Which is why President Barack Obama plucked her for his cabinet after his first choice, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, turned him down. He was especially impressed, he said, with Benjamin's efforts in community health and wellness programs.

A native of Mobile, Benjamin grew up in another small shrimping village -- Daphne, AL -- and came to Bayou La Batre on assignment from the National Health Service Corps. With degrees from Xavier University of New Orleans, Morehouse College and the University of Alabama-Birmingham, she could have hooked up with any number of lucrative private practices. Instead, she went to Bayou La Batre -- and then decided to stay there, even converting her practice from private to a public health clinic.

She had come a long way from the poor girl who initially wanted to change the world through law. After graduating from high school, she now recalls with some amusement at her naivete, she applied to Yale Law School. A letter came back telling her politely that she needed an  undergraduate degree first.

Her interests turned toward medicine while she was at Xavier, where she joined a pre-med club. Later, at Morehouse, she acquired the interest in community health that would eventually earn her national attention.

Besides dealing with poverty and language problems (many of Bayou La Batre's residents are from South Asia and Mexico), Benjamin had her first office virtually leveled by Hurricane Georges in 1998.

In spite of her remote location, however, Benjamin's fame had spread long before she attracted the notice of Obama. She earned a $50,000 MacArthur Genius Grant. She was named one of the nation's 50 Future Leaders Under 40 by Time Magazime, has been a Person of the Week on ABC and a Person of the Year chosen by CBS Good Morning. A Roman Catholic, she was awarded the Papal Cross by Pope Benedict XVI. She has risen to the top of nearly every national medical organization to which she belonged.

With these high points have come low ones. Part of her passion for wellness and preventitive care comes from losses within her family -- her brother to AIDS, her father to high blood pressure and diabetes and her mother to lung cancer.


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