WASHINGTON -- President Obama has chosen Regina Benjamin, a family physician from Alabama, to be the next Surgeon General, filling a key public health post ahead of an expected surge in the H1N1 flu next fall.
Benjamin gained fame through her public efforts to rebuild her rural health clinic after Hurricane Katrina devastated it. She founded the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in 1990 and rebuilt it after the hurricane.
Benjamin has also served as the first black woman to head the State of Alabama Medical Association and was associate dean for rural health at the University of South Alabama's College of Medicine.
Obama announced her his intent to nominate her at a Rose Garden event this morning in which he also spoke of the challenges and need for health care reform. "I understand people are a little nervous and a little scared about making change. You know, the muscles in this town to bring about big changes are a little atrophied, but we're whipping folks back into shape. We are going to get this done," the president said.
"And if there's anyone who understands the urgency of meeting this challenge in a personal and powerful way, it is the woman who will become our nation's next surgeon general, Dr. Regina Benjamin."
The president's first choice to be surgeon general, CNN's Sanjay Gupta, pulled out of the running several months ago, saying he wanted to be able to spend more time with his family.
Gupta had initially said he was attracted to the position because of the ability to use his high-profile reputation to increase awareness of public health and the push health care reform through the Congress.
Since then, the administration has been without a top public health official, even as the swine flu has demanded attention.