|US surgeon general to speak at 2011 spring commencement|
|April 13, 2011|
Vice Admiral Regina M. Benjamin, MD, MBA, United States surgeon general, will present this year's commencement address for the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health on Saturday, May 7, at 1 p.m. in Carmichael Arena on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
"Dr. Benjamin's career reflects our academic and professional learning, making her a person we are eager to emulate," said Elise Lockamy, co-president of the SPH Student Government. "Service to the community is a great marker of personal and professional success in the field of public health."
When President Barack Obama nominated her for the position of surgeon general in 2009, he said Benjamin had survived "floods and fires and severe want" and "refused to give up."
Benjamin established a medical clinic for uninsured residents of a small fishing village along the Gulf Coast of Alabama in 1990, but at that time, she could not have predicted the storms she would weather or the obstacles she would conquer on her way to becoming the country's 18th surgeon general.
After Hurricane Georges destroyed the clinic in 1998, Dr. Benjamin made house calls in her pickup truck while the clinic was rebuilt. Hurricane Katrina destroyed the clinic again in 2005, and one day before the scheduled reopening in 2006, a devastating fire destroyed it a third time. Often putting up her own money to cover expenses, Benjamin persevered, and today the clinic resides in a small brick building next to City Hall.
Her spirit and determination resonate with public health students.
James Tonthat, also a student government co-president, said Benjamin was an "amazing selection" for commencement speaker. "I think everyone is excited about the insights she can provide about her career and her position as surgeon general."
The first member of her family to attend medical school, Benjamin has stated, "I had never seen a black doctor before I went to college." She earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Xavier University in New Orleans, her medical degree from the University of Alabama in Birmingham and a master's degree in business administration from Tulane University.
Benjamin's credentials go far beyond the bayou, however. She also attended Morehouse School of Medicine, completed her family medicine residency in Macon, Ga., and received eleven honorary doctorates through the years. She has served as associate dean for rural health at the University of South Alabama's College of Medicine and was chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards, a national nonprofit organization representing the 70 medical boards of the United States and its territories.
In 1995, she was the first physician under age 40 and the first African-American woman to be elected to the American Medical Association's board of trustees. In 2002, she became president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, making her the first African-American female president of a state medical society in the United States. She also has been on the boards of dozens of academies and organizations.
"With a commitment to diversity and inclusion, our School is positioned to highlight the achievements of persons from traditionally underrepresented populations," Lockamy said. "Dr. Benjamin, an African-American woman, is an intelligent and successful leader with a great deal of influence. We are honored that she will speak to - and hopefully inspire - our graduates and commencement guests."
Benjamin's accolades are many. In 1998, she received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights. She was named by Time magazine as one of the "Nation's 50 Future Leaders Age 40 and Under," chosen as "Person of the Week" on ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and selected "Woman of the Year" by CBS' This Morning. In 2008, she was tapped for the MacArthur "Genius" Fellows Program.
Nationally prominent for her business acumen, humane approach to preventive medicine and work to overcome health disparities, Benjamin aims to provide the public with the best scientific information available to help individuals improve their health and the health of the nation. In addition, she oversees the operational command of 6,500 uniformed health officers who serve the U.S. Public Health Service in locations around the world to promote, protect, and advance the health of the American people.
"Thanks should be given to Dean Felicia Mebane," said Tonthat, "because she did the majority of the work to get the surgeon general to come and speak to us." Mebane, assistant dean for student affairs at the School, works closely with student organizations, including the SPH Student Government and the Minority Student Caucus.
December, May and August graduates, along with their guests, are invited to attend the spring commencement ceremony. Details about commencement and the event may be found at www.sph.unc.edu/commencement.
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|Last updated April 18, 2011|