Regina Benjamin, MD, Family Physician

I was pleasantly surprised when I turned on the TV at the noon hour to see the President nominate Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA to be the next Surgeon General. Since the election, there has been much speculation on who the next Surgeon General would be. And, even today, this news is probably going to be overshadowed by news like the President's nominee to the Supreme Court.

I just wanted to share an experience that I had with Dr. Benjamin which continues to inspire me today. If you didn't already know, Dr. Benjamin is a Family Physician (like I am). I first heard Dr. Benjamin's story when she was a keynote speaker at the 2006 American Academy of Family Physicians National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students. I chaired the planning committee that year. (I also moderated a panel that year. Click here to learn more about that).

To put this into context, this conference was almost exactly one year following Hurricane Katrina. I don't exactly remember the theme of the conference, but the concepts of service and helping those in need resonated in the selection of the speakers that year. The committee was very excited when Dr. Benjamin was able to be a speaker.

If you haven't already heard her story, I encourage you to read this article from the conference for a more complete compilation of her remarks. She founded a rural health clinic on Alabama's Gulf Coast in 1990. When she started to tell the story of Katrina and the aftermath, the room of medical students, residents, doctors, and guests, became silent hanging on her every word.

Family physicians are "truly blessed" by the trust that patients give them, said Benjamin, calling on residents and students to become leaders in their communities. Patients tell FPs their deepest, darkest secrets and allow them to hold their babies, she said. But with that gift of trust comes the responsibility to lead, she added.

"Kids look up to you, and as you continue to rise in your positions of leadership, you always have to reach back and pull someone else up with you," Benjamin said. A good leader will push those rising stars out in front and support them from behind, she added.

As she neared the end of her presentation, Benjamin encouraged her audience with these words: "It costs money to keep our doors open, but money isn't everything. We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give. The most valuable thing you can give is yourself."

There are many times on this blog when I have scoffed at government - especially at what it does and does not do. But, this time, I support Dr. Regina Benjamin and hope that she is confirmed to be the next Surgeon General. In her words at today's announcement, she said that she wants to become "America's Family Physician." I support her in this endeavor.

My only concern is how the White House utilizes her in seeking to pass their version of health care reform this year. A lot of docs, especially family docs like myself, will be watching this very closely. My hope is that Dr. Benjamin will continue to keep the patient first and not let politics get in the way of that.