Former U.S. Surgeon General to aid Xavier University


Posted on September 13, 2013 at 5:36 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 13 at 5:40 PM

Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS - Xavier University ranks number one in the nation in the number of African-American students who graduate from medical school.  Now one of the country's top doctors will make its health curriculum even stronger.

You've seen her in uniform as a three star admiral, and the 18th U.S. surgeon general. She came to New Orleans in 2010 to help victims of the BP Gulf oil spill. Now she's coming back.

She gave up her position, but not her mission of prevention, prevention, prevention.

"My mother died of lung cancer from smoking. My father died of complications of a stroke and hypertension and my brother died from HIV, all preventable diseases," said Dr. Regina Benjamin from the podium.

She has a new bully pulpit, the students at her alma mater, Xavier University, where Dr. Benjamin is the first endowed chair in public health sciences. While she'll still see patients in Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in the small Alabama shrimping village, she will also review Xavier's curricula in the public health sciences, teach students, and bring in experts for international conferences. 

"Health doesn't occur just in a doctor's office. It occurs where we live, where we learn, where we work, where we play, where we pray. It occurs in everything we do," she explained. 

When talking about how Louisiana and Mississippi consistently rank at the bottom when it comes to the health of the citizens, she says "We have work to do."

Dr. Benjamin wants to teach how exercise can be fun, like dancing for instance. And she wants to fight the death and health destruction caused by cigarettes and marketing to teens by tobacco companies.

"Ninety percent of all of smokers start before the age of 18. Ninety-nine percent before the age of 26. If we could just get that young person not to take that first cigarette. They (tobacco companies) market over $1 million an hour, $27 million a day to that 18 to 26-year-old. They know where to market," Dr. Benjamin continued.

And in the packed audience at Xavier, was one of her proud teachers who has been shaping lives for 46 years. 

"The real purpose of Xavier is that our graduates will  become  leaders who will go out to help create a more just and humane society. Regina you've done it. You will continue to do it," announced Sister Grace Mary Flickinger of the Xavier Faculty to the entire audience.