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President Obama Taps Xavier Alumna Dr. Regina Benjamin for Surgeon General

President Barack Obama on Monday nominated Dr. Regina Benjamin, a family physician and Xavier University of Louisiana alumna, to be the next Surgeon General.

Benjamin, 52, is founder of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, which serves the poor, uninsured and other underserved patients in Mobile County, Ala.

Benjamin gained acclaim for her determination to rebuild her clinic after hurricanes George in 1998 and Katrina in 2005 shuttered the building. In 2006, a fire destroyed Benjamin’s clinic just after flood damage was repaired. During this period, Benjamin, who often administers medical services to her patients for free, and her staff operated the clinic from a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer.

Benjamin received a bachelor’s degree in 1979 from Xavier University, a historically Black institution known for its ability to place its students in medical school. She received medical degrees from the Morehouse School of Medicine and the University of Alabama, Birmingham. She also holds a master’s degree in business administration from Tulane University.

“Regina Benjamin has defied the odds for so long, in a way, I knew that this was coming,” says Dr. Norman Francis, president of Xavier University.  “This is a tribute to why Xavier University was founded. We were founded by a woman (Katherine Drexel, a nun) who saw a need to have young people in New Orleans get what was denied – a Catholic higher education. She saw the need and filled it. Regina took the message well. She saw the need in Bayou La Batre and filled it.”

Xavier sends more African-Americans to medical school than any other institution. The university has placed an average of 80 students per year into medical school over the past few years and has placed approximately 60 students per year into related science-related fields.

“Even in her quiet manner, Regina Benjamin has got strength that few people have,” Francis adds.  “To be able to work day and night with no idea that she is going to be paid at all. To rebuild after three catastrophes requires a tremendous amount of grit and a commitment to people.”

Benjamin was the first Black woman to head the State of Alabama Medical Association and was associate dean for rural health at the University of South Alabama’s College of Medicine. In 1997, she received one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon physicians in the United States: election to the elite Institute of Medicine.

And, as if her list of achievements was not long enough, last year Benjamin received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights and a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.”


 “I’m very excited about Dr. Benjamin’s nomination,” says Dr. David Satcher, who holds the Poussaint-Satcher-Cosby Chair in Mental Health at the Morehouse School of Medicine. “I think it is a great choice. She represents primary care, family medicine at its best, and commitment to underserved communities, which is rare in this country. She represents leadership in medicine. You do not think of family physicians practicing in rural underserved communities as also being national leaders.”

During the Clinton administration, Satcher served simultaneously in the positions of Surgeon General and Assistant Secretary for Health from February 1998 through January 2001. He also held the posts of director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry from 1993 to 1998.

Both Francis and Satcher agree that Benjamin’s nomination reaffirms the role of historically Black colleges and universities and the excellence that comes out of these institutions.

“Not many people think about the fact that [HBCUs] are struggling institutions. We don’t the kind of resources that other people take for granted,” says Satcher. “We struggle to make ends meet, and yet we continue to produce outstanding graduates.”

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