“Is Surgeon General Appointee Too Fat?” a recent Fox news segment asked. The interviewee, sporting a T-shirt emblazoned “No Chubbies,” estimated that Dr. Regina Benjamin was “50 to 60 pounds” overweight, proving she is “lazy,” and makes “poor food choices.”
I first read about President Barack Obama’s recent pick for the post of Surgeon General in the February 2006 Reader’s Digest. Benjamin, then 49, of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, was featured because of her heroic work for her town and her clinic, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
According to the Digest, Benjamin had used her own money to start the clinic in 1990 in the shrimping village of 2,300, one third of whose inhabitants were from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In 1998, she rebuilt the clinic after Hurricane Georges.
In 2005, Benjamin and her nurse again donned rubber gloves, and worked to clean up after Katrina. The rebuilt clinic was to have opened on January 2, 2006, but was gutted by fire on New Year’s Day. Benjamin, undaunted, started over again.
Quoted as saying, “The patients keep me going,” Benjamin makes house calls, treats those who cannot pay, and helps buy the medicines she prescribes.
A graduate of Xavier University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and the University of Alabama School of Medicine, Benjamin was a 1998 Mandela Award Winner, a former Kellogg National Fellow, and a 2008 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (the so-called “genius” grant). In 1995, she became the first African-American woman under 40 to be elected to the American Medical Association Board of Trustees.
This “lazy” woman’s commitment to delivering primary care to rural and underserved communities is a valuable resource for someone who will need to look at the big health picture in America.
After her nomination, Benjamin commented, “My hope is to be America’s doctor, America’s family physician. I want to ensure that no one—no one—falls through the cracks, as we improve our health care system.”
Denise Stewart in The Root quotes Bayou La Batre Mayor Stan Wright as saying, “It means we may be losing a good doctor, but it also means the whole United States will have a good doctor.”
In full disclosure, I was so moved by the Reader’s Digest article that I have sent donations to Benjamin’s clinic, and would be happy to see her in the position of Surgeon General.
But this column is written not as a push for Benjamin—there are, no doubt, many dedicated, qualified candidates for the post in this country—but rather as a plea to judge candidates on their record, not on their race, gender, or avoirdupois.