President Obama has made a second nomination for the next surgeon general, after CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta's short-lived -- but much publicized -- nomination fell through earlier this year. Dr. Regina Benjamin, the new nominee, practices medicine in Alabama and came to national attention in 2005 when she mobilized volunteers to rebuild her clinic after it was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, only to have to rebuild again the next year after a fire. The thing I'm most excited about, though, is her specialty. Dr. Benjamin is a primary care physician -- a family doctor -- and practices medicine in a small, rural community, a demographic fewer and fewer medical school graduates are willing to serve.
There's a national shortage of primary care doctors -- which is only expected to get worse in the next decade. The American Academy of Family Physicians has predicted that within ten years, we'll fall short by at least 40,000 primary care doctors. So why so few family doctors? As medicine goes further and further into hyper-specialization, many doctors are finding it easier to focus on just one aspect of medicine.
And then, of course, there's the money. Medical students routinely take out huge loans to finance their education. A common complaint is that -- even if they want to become primary care doctors or focus on small communities -- if they're going to pay back those loans, then being a specialist is the best way to do it. (Benjamin, by the way, paid for her medical education by participating in the National Health Service Corps, which offers tuition assistance in exchange for practicing in under-served communities.)
The quality of specialized health care in America is exceptional. What we're not doing a very good job on, though, is providing routine care, preventative care and finding a way for people to afford health care. Benjamin's background and experience put her in a great position to tackle those problems.