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Regina  Benjamin

Regina Benjamin

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


Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA is the Founder and CEO of BayouClinic, and was the 18th United States Surgeon General (2009-2013). As America’s Doctor, she provided the public with the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and the health of the nation. Dr. Benjamin also oversaw the operational command of 6,500 uniformed public health officers who serve in locations around the world to promote and protect the health of the American people. As chair of the National Prevention Council – 17 cabinet-level federal agency heads, she led the development of the National Prevention Strategy: America’s Plan for Better Health and Wellness. Dr. Benjamin specializes in prevention policies and health promotion among individuals as well as large populations, especially concerning obesity, childhood obesity, and children’s health. She has a special interest in rural health care, health disparities among socio-economic groups, suicide, violence, and mental health. Read More >

From her early days as the founder of a rural health clinic in Alabama to her leadership role in the worldwide advancement of preventive health, Dr. Regina Benjamin has forged a career that has been recognized by a broad spectrum of organizations and publications. 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. Other 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.

Dr Benjamin advises or consults with various growth companies, including technology and healthcare. She currently serves on the boards of Kaiser Hospitals and Health Plan; Ascension; ConvaTec PLC; Computer Technology Systems Inc (CPSI); and the American Heart Association. Dr. Benjamin is one of the task members of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Behavioral Health Integration Task Force that calls for the integration of primary care, mental health, and substance use services. 

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.

In 1998 Dr. Benjamin was the United States recipient of the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights. She received 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, she was honored with a MacArthur Genius Award Fellowship. In 2011, Dr. Benjamin became the recipient of the Chairman’s Award at the 42nd NAACP Image Awards

In May 2013, Reader’s Digest, ranked her #22 of the “100 Most Trusted People in America.

Benjamin has a B.S. in chemistry from Xavier University, New Orleans, attended Morehouse School of Medicine, earned an MD degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and an MBA from Tulane University. She is the recipient of 30 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

Regina Benjamin is a national leader in preventative health, fighting health disparities and developing innovative community-based strategies for low-income and rural communities. 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. She knows it’s well-documented and researched that your ZIP code is a better predictor of your health and longevity than your genetic code. 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, racial disparities in black maternal health 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.