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President Barack Obama leaves the Rose Garden after announcing his nominee for Surgeon General, Dr Regina Benjamin. Photo: AP

GoogleNews.com, WASHINGTON (Reuters), July 13, 2000 – President Barack Obama has selected Dr. Regina Benjamin, an Alabama family physician, as the U.S. surgeon general, an administration official said on Monday.

Obama announced Benjamin as the top authority on U.S. medical matters at a Rose Garden ceremony at 11:40 a.m. EDT/1540 GMT.

A biography of her by the MacArthur Foundation said Benjamin is a “rural family physician forging an inspiring model of compassionate and effective medical care in one of the most underserved regions of the United States.”

It said that in 1990, she founded the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic to serve the Gulf Coast fishing community of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, a village of approximately 2,500 people devastated twice in the past decade by Hurricanes Georges, in 1998, and Katrina, in 2005.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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NIH.gov, July 13, 2009  —  Regina Benjamin practices as a country doctor in rural Alabama. As founder and CEO of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, Dr. Regina Benjamin is making a difference to the underserved poor in a small fishing village on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. It is a town of about 2500 people, about 80 percent of her patients live below the poverty level, and Dr. Benjamin is their only physician.  Dr. Benjamin’s career has taken some interesting twists. While completing her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Xavier University in New Orleans, she served as a student intern-trainee for the Central Intelligence Agency, was a medical director at several nursing homes, and in 1993 she went on a medical mission to Honduras.

 Dr. Benjamin earned an M.B.A. degree in 1991. The same year she was selected for the American Medical Association’s “Unsung Hero Campaign”. In 1995 she was named a “Person of the Week” on ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, and in 1997 she received the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights. She was interviewed by People magazine in the article “Always On Call,” in May, 2002 and was the subject of an “Everyday Heroes” feature in the January 2003 issue of Reader’s Digest.

 When her clinic was reduced to rubble by Hurricane Georges in 1998, Dr. Benjamin rolled up her sleeves and helped rebuild it, and continued to serve her patients by making house calls in her 1988 Ford pickup. As she explains her motivation, “I hope I make a difference one person at a time. By making a patient feel better, by being able to tell a mother that her baby is going to be okay. Whether her baby is four or forty-four the look on the mother’s face is the same. I also hope that I am making a difference in my community by providing a clinic where patients can come and receive health care with dignity.”

 Among numerous professional and volunteer memberships and honors, Dr. Regina Benjamin has received more than $11 million in research support. She served on the American Medical Association’s Women in Medicine Panel from 1986 to 1987, and was president of the American Medical Association Education and Research Foundation from 1997 to 1998. As president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, she was the first African American woman president of a state medical society in the United States.

 While providing primary medical care to the poor, she also spends four to six hours a week supervising medical students from the University of Alabama and USA College of Medicine in their rural and/or family medicine rotations at the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic. She is Associate Dean for Rural Health at the University of South Alabama and Director of the Alabama Area Health Education Center, which provides educational opportunities and mentoring to area medical students. From 2000 to 2001, she was responsible for the USA Telemedicine distance learning program, which offers medical education and specialty health care to patients and clinicians in rural and medically underserved areas through a private telecommunications network.

Personal Information

Born:  Regina Benjamin, 1956, Mobile, AL.
Education: Attended Xavier University, New Orleans, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, graduated 1982; MBA, Tulane University, 1991.
Religion: Catholic.
Memberships:

Board of trustees, American Medical Association, 1995-98; board of censors, Medical Association of the State of Alabama; member, Alabama Board of Medical Examiners; member, State Committee of Public Health of Alabama; vice chair, Governor’s Commission on Aging; fellow, American College of Family Physicians; Kellogg National Fellow; member, Board of Trustees, Mobile County Medical Society; board of trustees, Mobile Area Red Cross; board of trustees, Mercy Medical; board of trustees, Mobile Chamber of Commerce; board of trustees, Mobile 200 (education reform); board of trustees, United Way of Mobile; board of trustees, Eastern Mercy Health System; vice president, Deep South Girl Scout Council.

Career

Physician; clinical professor, preceptor for rural medicine/family medicine clerkships, University of Alabama Birmingham and University of South Alabama medical schools.

Life’s Work

Dr. Regina Benjamin is a woman of strong social conscience. Having escaped the poverty in which she was raised by becoming a physician, Benjamin chose to return to the poor rural South of her childhood where doctors are in short supply. She eschewed the lucrative private practice she might have had in a big city in order to serve an underprivileged community with a compassion that has won her nationwide acclaim.

Regina Benjamin was born in 1956 in Mobile, AL, and raised in nearby Daphne. Though her family owned land, financial straits forced them to sell it, and Benjamin remembers making frequent trips to the Gulf of Mexico to catch crabs, fish, mullet, and shrimp for dinner. Reared by a divorced mother who worked as a waitress, she claims that she never even realized that she was poor, because, as she explained to Ebony, “we could live off the land and I had family and I had all of the things I needed.”

When it was time for her to think about college, Benjamin first applied to Yale University School of Law. “They sent me a reply politely telling me that I needed my undergraduate degree first.” Undaunted, Benjamin enrolled in Xavier University in New Orleans after receiving a scholarship. There she saw her first black doctor and realized that she, too, could be a physician. Her interest prompted her to join the pre-med club at Xavier which allowed her to see physicians at work. Mesmerized by the physicians’ impact on their patients’ lives, Benjamin completed the pre-med program at Xavier and then attended medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, from which she graduated in 1982. While at Morehouse, she developed an interest in community health, where she believed she would have a longer-term impact on her patients.

To help pay for her schooling, Benjamin enlisted with the National Health Service Corps, which reimburses tuition in exchange for a three-year commitment to work where there is a dire need for doctors. Therefore, after her residency, Benjamin went to Bayou La Batre, AL, a small shrimping village along the Alabama Gulf Coast not far from where she was raised. She would be the only doctor serving a population of 2,500, of which more than two-thirds lived below the poverty line and a large percentage spoke no English. Despite the odds, Benjamin knew that she would thrive in Bayou La Batre. “Throughout my life,” she told Ebony, “nothing has ever been planned. I am a firm believer that you bloom wherever you’re planted.”

When Benjamin’s three-year service was finished, she decided to remain in Bayou La Batre. In 1990 she opened her private practice there rather than in a larger city offering greater financial rewards. She explains that she chose to work in Bayou La Batre because “there is a need, and because it is a place where one doctor’s presence can make a difference.”

Most of Bayou La Batre’s residents earn their livelihood from the Gulf, and many of their illnesses come from the Gulf, too. Thus, Benjamin spends her days removing shrimp thorns from fingers, caring for weakened hearts, and helping to mend broken bones. And when she is finished with her own patients, she makes rounds at three hospitals, two in Mobile and one in Fairhope.

To be a rural doctor is in essence to be a social service worker as well. Wearing her trademark Air Nike tennis shoes, Benjamin spends hours with her patients, often driving her Ford pickup truck all over town to visit their homes. The office also runs a “taxi service,” picking up and driving home patients who have no other means of transportation. When they cannot compensate her for her services–which is often–she lets them pay when and what they can. She is even known for assisting her patients in battling with the insurance companies. As Rick Bragg of the New York Times described her, she is a “soft-spoken woman, quick to smile, slow to brag, too good to be true it seems.”

Given the economic wherewithal of her patient base and her willingness to see patients even if they cannot afford to pay for the visit, Benjamin at first often struggled just to pay the rent for the modest store-front office she shares with Tuang Video & Gifts, an admiralty law office, and a Vietnamese pool hall. Thus, she resorted to moonlighting in hospital emergency rooms as far away as Mississippi to survive. Here, she told Ebony, she learned “the importance of life and of taking the time to pay attention to little things.”

It soon became clear to Benjamin that she needed to know as much about business and government bureaucracy as she did about Gulf- borne illnesses if she was to keep her business afloat, and so she enrolled at Tulane University’s business school. Twice a week, she made the 250-mile round trip commute to New Orleans to complete the work for her master’s degree in business administration. While in school, Benjamin discovered a little-known provision in a 1977 health clinic law that made federal money available to help pay for the operation of a clinic or office in places like Bayou La Batre, where medical help is badly needed. Once classified as a rural health clinic, Benjamin’s practice would receive a lump sum for each Medicare or Medicaid patient she treated rather than having to bill separately for office visits, X-rays, and other services.

Benjamin converted her private practice into a rural health clinic so that she could continue to practice medicine in the environment she enjoyed. Benjamin, with a registered nurse, insurance clerk, part-time receptionist, licensed practical nurse, and medical students doing a rural rotation for school, served approximately 3,600 patients as of 1996, a patient base 60 percent white, 20 percent black, and the rest Southeast Asian immigrants. To be a good physician, said David Satcher, then director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and now U.S. surgeon general, one must “know the community. Regina has gone further than most in reaching out. She has a sensitivity to the culture.”

Benjamin may be the perfect prescription for the ills of the American health care system, but she is also particularly frustrated with it. “What I hate,” she explained to Bragg, “is writing a prescription for someone who can’t get it filled because they don’t have any money. People can’t buy medicine, they can’t buy anything.” To Benjamin, then, Bayou La Batre is “both a home and a cause.”

Not surprisingly, Benjamin has won many national accolades for her work, and she is often consulted on opening health facilities in underserved areas. For instance, she conducted a rural-health clinic conference that was broadcast nationwide via satellite so people could ask her questions related to improving the economic viability of rural clinics. She also regularly presents the concerns of her patients to the national medical community. “I want to make a difference for my patients and speak for them,” she told Jet. Towards this end, she has assumed leadership positions with the American Medical Association (AMA). Moreover, in 1995 she became the first black woman, only the second black, and the first physician under the age of 40 to be elected to the AMA’s board of trustees, a position she held until 1998. She has further been heralded as an “Angel in a White Coat” by the New York Times, “Person of the Week” on ABC’s World News Tonight, “Woman of the Year” by CBS This Morning, and one of the “Nation’s Fifty Future Leaders Age Forty and Under” by Time Magazine. But it is her patients who bestow upon her the greatest praise.

Southwest Airlines Magazine described Benjamin as “an incongruous mix of contrasting images: medical professionalism and Southern charm; white lab jacket, pearls, and Nike Air Max sneakers; though quiet and reserved, she’s been known to sky-dive and drive Porsches.” But despite this dichotomy of images, Benjamin’s commitment to her patients has been nothing short of steadfast. Her patients only somewhat jokingly refer to her as the future surgeon general, and she continues to receive offers from large facilities in populous areas, offering significant financial compensation. And even though her office was virtually destroyed by Hurricane Georges in September of 1998, her interests and her heart still remain in Bayou La Batre. When asked by Southwest Airlines Magazine to explain this passion, she replied that she loved “everything. Just everything…[The people] are genuine. They’re family….It’s nice to come home where things are real. It’s comforting. It’s like the salmon. You go back to where you started.”

Awards

Woman of the Year, CBS This Morning, 1996; Person of the Week, ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings; Woman of Achievement award, Mobile Press Register; American Medical Association’s Unsung Hero Campaign advertisement, 1990; one of the “Nation’s Fifty Future Leaders Age Forty and Under,” Time Magazine.

Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic

 Dr. Benjamin’s clinic was destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina and in 2006 by a fire – on New Year’s Day, one day before the scheduled reopening. The story is told in Reader’s Digest, February 2006 and March 2006.

Dr. Benjamin is founder and CEO of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. She is former associate dean for rural health at the University of South Alabama’s College of Medicine in Mobile, where she administers the Alabama AHEC program and previously directed its Telemedicine Program. She serves as the current president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama. In 1998 she was the United States’ recipient of the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights. In 1995 she was elected to the American Medical Association’s board of trustees, making her the first physician under age 40 and the first African-American woman to be elected. She has also served as president of the American Medical Association’s Education and Research Foundation. Born in 1956, Dr. Benjamin attended Xavier University in New Orleans and was a member of the second class of the Morehouse School of Medicine. She received her M.D. degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and completed her residency in family practice at the Medical Center of Central Georgia. After entering solo practice in Bayou La Batre (a small shrimping village along the gulf coast), Dr. Benjamin spent several years moonlighting in emergency rooms and nursing homes to keep her practice open. After receiving an MBA from Tulane University, she converted her office to a rural health clinic.

Dr. Benjamin is a diplomate of the American Board of Family Practice and a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians. She was a Kellogg National Fellow and a Rockefeller Next Generation Leader. She serves on numerous boards and committees, including the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, Catholic Health East, Medical Association of the State of Alabama, Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, Alabama State Committee of Public Health, Mobile County Medical Society, Alabama Rural Health Association, Leadership Alabama, Mobile Area Red Cross, Mercy Medical, Mobile Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Mobile, and Deep South Girl Scout Council.

She was appointed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala to the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act Committee and to the Council of Graduate Medical Education, and is a member of the Step 3 Committee. In Alabama she has served as vice president of the Governor’s Commission on Aging and as a member of the Governor’s Health Care Reform Task Force and the Governor’s Task Force on Children’s Health.

Dr. Benjamin was named by Time Magazine as one of the “Nation’s 50 Future Leaders Age 40 and Under. ” She was featured in a New York Times article, “Angel in a White Coat, ” and was chosen “Person of the Week” by ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, “Woman of the Year” by CBS This Morning, and “Woman of the Year” by People Magazine. She was featured on the December 1999 cover of Clarity Magazine and received the 2000 National Caring Award, which was inspired by Mother Teresa.

Consistent with her strong social conscience, Dr. Benjamin has spent time doing missionary work in Honduras and is on the Board of Physicians for Human Rights. Her interests include environmental issues and eco and adventure travel.
External links
http://www.bayouclinic.org

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Stanford University School of Medicine/California Institute for Regenerative MedicineA fluorescent microscope image shows human embryonic stem cells in this photo taken at Stanford University and released earlier this year by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

 

GoogleNews.com, MinnPost.com, July 13, 2009, by Sharon Schmickle  —  This is shaping up to be a great PR year for scientists. First, President Obama has repeatedly given science a starring role in his vision for America’s future. Now it turns out that the American people – the crusty, irascible crowd that so deeply mistrusts Congress, journalists and almost everyone else who could be associated with elite or intellectual status – are uncharacteristically soft on scientists.

 

In a new poll by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press, scientists won approval ratings no realistic politician could even dream of. Eighty-four percent said that science’s effect on society has been mostly positive. Compared with other professions, only members of the military and teachers ranked higher than scientists in terms of contributions to our overall well being.

A large majority of those polled also supported government funding for scientific research. Pew conducted the poll in April and May in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

People took more skeptical views, though, when it came to America’s scientific achievements. Clearly they worry that the nation is slipping behind the rest of the developed world. Just 17 percent thought that U.S. scientific achievements were the best in the world. Scientists, themselves, were more positive on that point. Forty-nine percent of those questioned in a parallel poll said U.S. achievements were the best in the world.

Dim views
Never mind that American scientists sequenced the human genome, isolated embryonic stem cells and probed distant planets. Only 27 percent of those who make their livings outside laboratories told the pollsters that science and medical technology rank among the United States’ greatest achievements of the past 50 years. Pride in the nation’s scientific achievements apparently fell over a cliff during the past decade: in a similar poll conducted in May 1999, 47 percent ranked scientific and medical advances among America’s greatest achievements.

The scientists suggest an explanation for the dim views of the nation’s scientific prowess. Of those polled, 85 percent said the public knows far too little about science.

The scientists also faulted the news media. Seventy-six percent said news reports do not distinguish between well-founded findings and the insignificant stuff. TV coverage got the worst marks; just 15 percent of the scientists rated it as excellent or good.

Further, half of the scientists blamed the public too, saying that people look for unrealistically quick solutions to problems.

A microbiologist who participated in the survey summed the situation this way: “I feel that science education in this country is in a terrible state, particularly post-elementary education. Something is happening between grade school and junior high school where our kids are losing interest in science or their teachers are not inspiring them. We also need some kind of continuing education, or outreach program, to adults who are out of school. The pace of our scientific advances has become quite swift the last 50 years, but most U.S. adults have been left behind.”

Test your own knowledge here with Pew’s online quiz.

Sharp differences
Knowledge aside, the poll revealed sharp differences between the scientists and everyone else on some key issues.

Not surprisingly evolution was one. Eighty-seven of the scientists said that humans and other living things have evolved over time and that evolution is the result of natural processes. Just 32 percent of the public accepted this as true.

On another hot button contemporary issue, 84 percent of the scientists said the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity. Forty-nine percent of the non-scientists agreed.

Favor the use of animals in scientific research? Yes, said 93 percent of the scientists; just 52 percent of the others agreed.

Favor federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells? Yes, said 93 percent of scientists; 58 percent of the others agreed.

Favor building more nuclear power plants? Yes, said 70 percent of the scientists; 51 percent of the others agreed.

Vaccinate all children? Yes, said 82 percent of scientists; 69 percent of others agreed.

One surprising finding is that scientists lean further to the political left than the nation as a whole. In the survey, 55 percent identified themselves as Democrats compared with 35 percent of the public. And fully 52 percent of the scientists called themselves liberals, something only 20 percent of the others would admit to.

Just 20 percent of the others in the survey thought of scientists as politically liberal.

So will that finding sway the public’s view of scientists? Stay tuned for the next survey.

GoogleNews.com, July 13 (Bloomberg), by Michelle Fay Cortiz — One or two alcoholic beverages a day may reduce an elderly person’s risk of developing dementia by almost 40 percent, a study presented at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Vienna found.

The results show people aged 75 years and older reap the same benefits from alcohol as their middle-aged counterparts, the researchers said. They asked more than 3,000 adults how often they drank and examined them every six months for up to six years for signs of memory loss or mental decline.

The findings aren’t a free pass for drinking among the elderly, the results showed. People who were already showing signs of memory problems deteriorated significantly faster if they drank alcohol, and the more they consumed the worse the symptoms became. Heavy drinkers, defined as those consuming more than 14 drinks a week, were almost twice as likely to develop dementia, researchers said.

“If you’re already drinking, you don’t need to cut back if you’re cognitively healthy, but we don’t have enough information to recommend you start drinking,” Kaycee Sink, assistant professor of medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said during a press conference. “The benefits increase as people move from mild to moderate levels of drinking, and then start to decline.”

Range of Benefits

Alcohol has a range of benefits, such as boosting good cholesterol, preventing blood platelets from clotting and prompting the production of chemicals that help memory, Sink said. When older people show signs of dementia, the benefits may be outweighed by the toxic effects of drinking, she said, emphasizing that the theory is unproven. Heavy drinking is associated with a range of problems, including smaller brain volumes and vitamin deficiencies, she said.

The study divided the group into four categories: those who abstained, light drinkers who had one to seven beverages a week, moderate drinkers at eight to 14 weekly drinks and heavy consumers who had more than 14 every week.

The participants had an average age of almost 80 years and most, 43 percent, didn’t drink at all. One-third took a drink a few times a week, while the rest were moderate or heavy drinkers.

The moderate drinkers were most likely to benefit from their alcohol habits, with the risk of developing dementia lowered by 37 percent, according to the study.

“It’s a nuanced message, and we need to take some care with that, especially given the large number of people with mild cognitive impairment that remain undiagnosed,” William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, said in an interview. “Still, people are comforted by the fact that a drink or two a day is ok.”

Boston (DbTechNo), July 13, 2009  –  There are positive results from a phase 3 study of Tarceva, a lung cancer drug manufactured by Roche.

The study showed that patients given the drug lived longer than those not given it, a plus for sure.

The drug was given to lung cancer patients directly after they finished chemotherapy, and extended the lives of those patients.

The drug is not yet approved by the FDA or EU for use in lung cancer patients, but is approved to treat pancreatic cancer.

With lung cancer reportedly the most common form of cancer worldwide, it will be nice to soon have another weapon with which to fight the disease.

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GoogleNews.com, July 13, 2009  —  That muttered curse word that reflexively comes out when you stub your toe could actually make it easier to bear the throbbing pain, a new study suggests.

Swearing is a common response to pain, but no previous research has connected the uttering of an expletive to the actual physical experience of pain.

“Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon,” said Richard Stephens of Keele University in England and one of the authors of the new study. “It taps into emotional brain centers and appears to arise in the right brain, whereas most language production occurs in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain.”

Stephens and his fellow Keele researchers John Atkins and Andrew Kingston sought to test how swearing would affect an individual’s tolerance to pain.

Because swearing often has an exaggerating effect that can overstate the severity of pain, the team thought that swearing would lessen a person’s tolerance.

As it turned out, the opposite seems to be true.

The researchers enlisted 64 undergraduate volunteers and had them submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating a swear word of their choice.

The experiment was then repeated with the volunteer repeating a more common word that they would use to describe a table.

Contrary to what the researcher expected, the volunteers kept their hands submerged longer while repeating the swear word.

The researchers think that the increase in pain tolerance occurs because swearing triggers the body’s natural “fight-or-flight” response.

Stephens and his colleagues suggest that swearing may increase aggression (seen in accelerated heart rates), which downplays weakness to appear stronger or more macho.

“Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it persists,” Stephens said.

The results of the study are detailed in the Aug. 5 issue of the journal NeuroReport.