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Dr. Regina Marcia Benjamin





Year of Birth / Death

b. 1956


Medical School

University of Alabama at Birmingham


Geography

LOCATION
Alabama


Career Path

General medicine: Family
Dr. Regina Marcia Benjamin



Milestones

YEAR
1990
ACHIEVEMENT
Dr. Regina Benjamin is founder and CEO of Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, Bayou La Batre, Alabama.
YEAR
2002
ACHIEVEMENT
Dr. Benjamin is the first African American woman to become president of the state medical society of Alabama.
YEAR
2009
ACHIEVEMENT
Dr. Benjamin is appointed U.S. Surgeon General


Inspiration

I believe it was divine intervention — it was in medical school when I realized there was nothing else I'd rather do with my life than to be a doctor. I had never seen a black doctor before I went to college, so I did not have an idea that I wanted to be one. I never thought I that I couldn't, but I never really thought about it at all. In college we had a very strong pre-med program and I joined a pre-med club and from there did well on interviews, and the MCAT, and I got accepted to medical school.



Biography

Regina Benjamin practices as a country doctor in rural Alabama. As founder and CEO of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, Dr. Regina Benjamin is making a difference to the underserved poor in a small fishing village on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. It is a town of about 2500 people, about 80 percent of her patients live below the poverty level, and Dr. Benjamin is their only physician.

Dr. Benjamin's career has taken some interesting twists. While completing her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Xavier University in New Orleans, she served as a student intern-trainee for the Central Intelligence Agency. After earning her doctor of medicine degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1984, she served her internship and residency in family practice at the Medical Center of Central Georgia at Macon. From 1990 to 1995 she was a medical director at several nursing homes, and in 1993 she went on a medical mission to Honduras.

Dr. Benjamin earned an M.B.A. degree in 1991. The same year she was selected for the American Medical Association's "Unsung Hero Campaign". In 1995 she was named a "Person of the Week" on ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, and in 1997 she received the Kaiser Family Foundation's Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights. She was interviewed by People magazine in the article "Always On Call," in May, 2002 and was the subject of an "Everyday Heroes" feature in the January 2003 issue of Reader's Digest.

When her clinic was reduced to rubble by Hurricane Georges in 1998, Dr. Benjamin rolled up her sleeves and helped rebuild it, and continued to serve her patients by making house calls in her 1988 Ford pickup. As she explains her motivation, "I hope I make a difference one person at a time. By making a patient feel better, by being able to tell a mother that her baby is going to be okay. Whether her baby is four or forty-four the look on the mother's face is the same. I also hope that I am making a difference in my community by providing a clinic where patients can come and receive health care with dignity."

Among numerous professional and volunteer memberships and honors, Dr. Regina Benjamin has received more than $11 million in research support. She served on the American Medical Association's Women in Medicine Panel from 1986 to 1987, and was president of the American Medical Association Education and Research Foundation from 1997 to 1998. As president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, she was the first African American woman president of a state medical society in the United States.

While providing primary medical care to the poor, she also spends four to six hours a week supervising medical students from the University of Alabama and USA College of Medicine in their rural and/or family medicine rotations at the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic. She is Associate Dean for Rural Health at the University of South Alabama and Director of the Alabama Area Health Education Center, which provides educational opportunities and mentoring to area medical students. From 2000 to 2001, she was responsible for the USA Telemedicine distance learning program, which offers medical education and specialty health care to patients and clinicians in rural and medically underserved areas through a private telecommunications network.

In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Benjamin the 18th Surgeon General of the United States.



Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

I've had numerous obstacles along the way, but I tend not to think of them as obstacles, but as just temporary challenges that I had to get through. There were different things along the way; for example in college, organic chemistry was the first time I really had to apply myself so that I could make a competitive final grade. In medical school it was probably the physiology, and of course, studying for board exams. In practice the challenge has been finding a way to keep my practice doors open economically and still deliver high quality care.

How do I make a difference?

I hope I make a difference one person at a time. By making a patient feel better, by being able to tell a mother that her baby is going to be okay. Whether her baby is four or forty-four the look on the mother's face is the same. I also hope that I am making a difference in my community by providing a clinic where patients can come and receive health care with dignity. I also hope that I am making a difference in the healthcare system through my involvement in organized medicine. I became involved in the AMA and the Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA) in order to better deliver care to my patients in Bayou La Batre, to be able to address issues that went beyond the prescription pad. For example, the funding of Medicare and Medicaid, the inability for elderly patients to purchase their medications, and through organized medicine and the political process I have helped address some of those issues.

Who was my mentor?

My grandmother who died when I was age nine. She was very strong willed and very compassionate. Long before I was born, she helped start a Catholic church for blacks in our community. Mass was said in her living room until she got someone to donate property and got the bishop to declare it a Mission and the church was built using an old Army barracks. Also, my grandmother lived on U.S. Highway 98 and during the Depression she would leave sandwiches and lemonade outside for the hobos (blacks and whites) who passed by. They always knew that they could stop there and get something cool to drink and something to eat. Those values she passed on to my mother and ultimately to my brother and to me. Several years ago, after my mother died of lung cancer, I realized that she was truly my mentor. She kept my grandmothers values alive in us. She was very intelligent, very bright, witty and extremely social and outgoing, very much a team and consensus builder, and was very opinionated. Many of those traits I inherited from my mother. And just like most of us we don't realize many of these things until after our parents are gone.

How has my career evolved over time?

After graduating high school I went to college at Xavier University and straight to medical school. I was in the second class of Morehouse School of Medicine, and there I learned about community medicine, primary care, and the importance of being politically active. Dr. Louis Sullivan, Former Secretary of Health and Human Services, was our dean and hematology professor. Dr. David Satcher, former surgeon general, was my community medicine professor. The basic foundations that were developed at Morehouse have served me well through the years and I am still building on them. Because Morehouse was a two-year school at that time, I transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham where I received my M.D. degree and learned to master the clinical skills that were needed throughout my career. After completing a residency in family practice, I worked at a community health center for two years and then opened my practice in nearby Bayou La Batre, where I have been practicing ever since. As I was starting my clinic, I attended Tulane to ultimately receive an M.B.A. which has helped me deliver cost efficient care to my patients as well as find alternative ways of obtaining Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

I have been involved in community activities since high school, and organized medicine such as the American Medical Association and the State medical associations, since medical school. By being involved, working hard and trying to do a good job, I have been elected to positions of leadership. I have remained involved to help improve healthcare in our community. Career-wise I still have a lot to do. We still have a lot of problems with our health care system, the high number of uninsured and underinsured, the need for improved access to healthcare services as well as a need for improved personal responsibility of our own health, good education, clean air, clean water and good work place environments.


National Library of Medicine