On June 2, 1995, the late great Peter Jennings profiled Dr. Regina Benjamin, whom President Obama nominated as his Surgeon General nominee, as the World News Tonight Person of the Week.
Here’s the script:
PETER JENNINGS, at anchor desk: Finally this evening, our Person of the Week. We were attracted to this person because she so clearly represents the notion that for some people serving one’s fellow citizen is such a gratifying calling that neither fame nor wealth is a satisfactory substitute. We find such a person in the deep South.
DR REGINA BENJAMIN (interview): It’s the best thing in the world. Patients come up, hug you and bring you cakes and shrimp and seafood and make you fat.
JENNINGS (Narration): Dr Regina Benjamin on the wonderful moments in the life of a country doctor. She practices medicine where it is needed badly — Bayou La Batre, a sleepy fishing village on Alabama’s Gulf Coast that is coming alive again as the shrimping season begins again.
BENJAMIN: The people are real, genuine, hardworking. They’re proud people. They make a living the best they can on shrimp boats. They, unfortunately, are too poor to pay their medical bills at times.
JENNINGS: Such is the life of a country doctor needed by people who are sometimes too poor to pay.
BENJAMIN: Some people call it the working poor. But they are the people that’s trying to do the right thing. They fall between the cracks.
JENNINGS: In the village, where they made the movie Forrest Gump, they have learned to depend on Regina Benjamin. She came here right out of med school. The National Health Service paid part of her tuition with the understanding she would have to work for three years in rural America, where there is a serious shortage of primary care. Dr Benjamin came to Bayou La Batre and stayed.
BENJAMIN: Sometimes it’s very frustrating. Sometimes I can do everything that the textbooks taught me and school taught me and then patients can’t buy their medicine. And it’s all for nothing.
JENNINGS: She stays, she says, because she is needed. She discovered that the federal government would provide partial funding to rural clinics and so she opened her own. And in this era of big money medicine, her patients put her in an earlier age. After all, she makes house calls. The Seaman family doesn’t know how they’d get by without her. Every week she comes to check in on Lagatha and Faron, both of whom are in advanced stages of muscular dystrophy.
PATIENT: The way I look at it, nowadays the way things is you ain’t got nobody that really is- well, I ain’t saying they ain’t concerned, but some of them is and some of them ain’t. And she’s one that’s
concerned about it, you know.
JENNINGS: Dr Benjamin’s influence — she is 38 now — extends beyond Bayou La Batre. She’s served on state medical boards lobbying for rural health care. And small communities across the nation telephone and write her trying to find better ways to deal with their own health care crisis. She tries to make time for all of them, but not too much time. You see, her patients come first. She has been caring for 74 year old Arnold Dolan for eight years.
BENJAMIN to Dolan: You don’t look like a man who has cancer.
ARNOLD DOLAN: It feels more like home coming here than it do going to a doctor’s office, that’s what I mean. If you don’t have faith to come to a doctor – You can go to a doctor and if you don’t have no faith in him, why you might as well stay at home. And she’ll help you. She has me.
BENJAMIN: It feels good when you help someone, when you make them smile, when you make a difference in their lives, when you stop the hurt. And you sleep well at night. And to me, that’s the best reward. If I had to go purchase that through a mail order catalogue or something, that’s what I’d buy.
End of taped spot.
JENNINGS at anchor desk: And so we choose Dr Regina Benjamin, because as one of her patients said, she wants to help people more than she wants to make a bunch of money. Now we know they still do make doctors that way. It’s nice to meet one. That’s our report on World News Tonight. I’m Peter Jennings.