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Regina  Benjamin

Regina Benjamin

18th U.S. Surgeon General, Healthcare Disparity Expert & Preventative Medicine Advocate

Biography

A leader in preventative medicine, fighting health disparities and developing innovative community-based health strategies and systems for low-income and rural communities, Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, is best known for her service as U.S. Surgeon General from 2009-2013. Dr. Benjamin’s notable career has spanned leadership roles in government, higher education, research, and healthcare and honors ranging from being the first African American woman on the board of the American Medical Association to the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights. She has also served on numerous corporate and non-profit boards, including current service on the boards of healthcare companies on the cutting edge of digital health, telehealth and telemedicine. Read More >

Throughout her career, Dr. Benjamin has specialized in prevention policies that elevate health and wellness above a focus on treating sickness and disease. Her specialties include the social determinants of health, population health, obesity, childhood obesity, children’s health, mental health, suicide and violence prevention, and advocating for African Americans, rural communities and other at-risk or underserved groups. As Surgeon General (a.k.a “America’s Doctor”), Dr. Benjamin was a passionate and pioneering advocate for making prevention the foundation of public health. She also oversaw the operational command of 6,500 uniformed public health officers and served as chair of the National Prevention Council. After leaving public office, Dr. Benjamin continued to champion preventative policies and use her voice for health promotion. She founded both the Bayou Clinic and its partner organization, the Gulf States Health Policy Center in rural Alabama. Both have become national and international models for community health and improving health outcomes. As CEO, Dr. Benjamin leads the clinic’s community-based approach to integrated primary care for the area’s low-income residents, emphasizing preventative health and patient responsibility. She also created the Gulf States Health Policy Center (GS-HPC), a comprehensive community, education and research center working alongside communities in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Texas. A recipient of numerous grants from the National Institutes of Health, GS-HPC identifies pressing health issues and opportunities for policy change that will improve health outcomes.

Dr. Benjamin currently serves as the NOLA/Times Picayune Endowed Chair of Public Health Sciences at Xavier University of Louisiana. She is also a member of numerous corporate and national volunteer boards, including Ascension Health Alliance, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, five regional Kaiser Health Plans and the National American Heart Association. Dr. Benjamin was invited to join the boards of three companies shaping the future of healthcare: Proteus Digital Health, a company advancing digital technology to improve patient outcomes; Nurx, a web-based telehealth company; and 98Pointe6, which specializes in new generation telemedicine, giving her a C-level perspective on most advanced trends in patient care.

Throughout her groundbreaking career, Dr. Benjamin has received numerous honors. In 1995, she was the first physician under the age of 40 and the first African American woman to be elected to the American Medical Association Board of Trustees. In 1998, Dr. Benjamin was the United States recipient of the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights. She was honored with the 2000 National Caring Award, which was inspired by Mother Teresa and was recognized with the Papal honor Pro Ecclesia et Ponticifice from Pope Benedict XVI. In 2008, Dr. Benjamin was awarded a MacArthur Genius Award Fellowship. She is the 2011 recipient of the Chairman’s Award at the 42nd NAACP Image Awards and was #22 of Reader’s Digest “100 Most Trusted People in America.”

Dr. Benjamin is a member of the Institute of Medicine and a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians. She has been chosen as a Kellogg National Fellow and Rockefeller Next Generation Leader. Her past board memberships include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Kaiser Family Foundation Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, Catholic Health Association and Morehouse School of Medicine. She earned a BS in chemistry from Xavier University, New Orleans, attended Morehouse School of Medicine, earned an MD from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and an MBA from Tulane University. She is also the recipient of 25 honorary degrees. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Regina's TED Talk

University of Michigan Medical School 2020 Commencement Speech

Speech Topics

A Doctor from the Bayou: Community Health for the Underserved

When President Obama selected Dr. Regina Benjamin to be his Surgeon General, he chose a rural family doctor who had had spent her entire career caring for the poor and uninsured. As the founder of the Bayou Clinic in Bayou La Batre, Alabama (the shrimping village featured in the movie, Forrest Gump), Dr. Benjamin continues a career dedicated to underserved communities. To serve patients “too poor for insurance and too rich for Medicaid.” Dr. Benjamin created a community-based, integrated and prevention-focused system of care that became a model for serving low income communities. Legendary for accepting buckets of oysters as payment, she also mortgaged her own home to rebuild the clinic after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Benjamin’s initiatives demonstrate what we can learn from her clinic as a microcosm for larger healthcare delivery systems. She blends heartwarming patient care stories from the Bayou, current policy innovations that are improving outcomes across the Gulf states region, and the national perspective of a former Surgeon General in this informative talk.

Combating Health Disparities: Narrowing the Gap

As a rural family doctor serving poor communities, Dr. Benjamin has spent her career seeing the impact of healthcare disparities and the social determinants of health on several generations of patients in her community. As Surgeon General and founder and CEO of the Gulf States Health Policy Center, Dr. Benjamin has been the driving force behind research and policies to promote equity and access. Taking a public and population health perspective, she reviews the range of social determinants, ranging from income and education, to the poor conditions of neighborhoods and recreational opportunities. Dr. Benjamin also explores practices and policies that will narrow the health gap.

Mental Health is a Public Health Issue

As Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin made mental health a public health issue by integrating both mental health and suicide prevention into the first national prevention strategy. Dr. Benjamin continues to influence both national and regional health policy as an advocate for a preventative public health approach to mental health — treating it as a chronic disease and eliminating stigma. In this insightful talk, Dr. Benjamin discusses what we need to do to put mental health on an equal level with physical health, such as increasing access and integrating behavioral health and preventative mental health into primary care.  Combining her unique perspective as a policy maker, community practitioner and Surgeon General, she provides an achievable prescription for improving the mental health of our nation.

Making Suicide Prevention A National Priority

As Surgeon General, Dr. Benjamin not only de-stigmatized talking about suicide, she made suicide prevention a national priority. One of her proudest accomplishments as SG was to include suicide prevention in a national prevention strategy that put mental health on an equal level with physical health. Today, as both a practitioner and a policy maker, she continues to be a strong advocate for erasing stigma to prevent suicide and treating the “diseases of despair” that have become a national epidemic. Calling for suicide education that teaches everyone to recognize the warning signs of suicide, and ways to make it easier for those who are struggling to get help, Dr. Benjamin provides actionable solutions to one our nation’s most tragic public health issues.