Early in her career Regina B. Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A., was the only doctor in Bayou La Batre, a rural Alabama town where many of her patients lived below the poverty line. In her Commencement address to the 36 graduates of the Physician Associate Program in December, she recalled a patient who suffered from seizures but had stopped taking her medication because she wasn’t sure if the pharmacy had given her the correct prescription. When the young woman drew a picture of the pills, Benjamin realized that she was unable to read. Another patient was suffering from severe back pain. Her job as a school janitor provided health insurance, but she couldn’t afford the co-pay for pain medication. “Patients had problems that my prescription pad couldn’t take care of,” Benjamin said.

Today, as the 18th Surgeon General of the United States, Benjamin likes to say that she moved her practice to Washington, D.C. to treat 300 million patients. She serves as chair of the National Prevention Council, making her the first U.S. Surgeon General in history to bring together 17 federal agencies to develop a National Prevention Strategy. “If you truly want to improve health care, you need to prevent disease,” she said, citing the need for a new approach to prevention that encompasses such other needs as clean air, healthy foods, and safe highways.

It’s also important, she said, to speak up. As an intern attending a meeting of the Medical Association of Georgia, she said that she had never seen a sexually transmitted disease outside of a textbook. It was not in her med school curriculum. The association passed a resolution and within six months sexually transmitted diseases were in the curriculum of every medical school in the country. “I learned that one person can make a difference,” she said, as she urged the graduates to make a difference in the world.

During the ceremony Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine, acknowledged the leadership and accomplishments of Mary Warner, M.M.Sc., PA-C, who has stepped down as program director. She has led the program since 2004 and during her tenure the program has expanded from 25 to 28 months to accommodate accreditation requirements and give students more time to work on their theses plans. She has also established a number of international initiatives, including clinical clerkships and consultations with universities and ministries of health around the world.

At the ceremony in Woolsey Hall, William B. Stewart, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery (gross anatomy), and Shanta Elizabeth Kapadia, M.B.B.S., lecturer in surgery (gross anatomy) received the Outstanding Didactic Course Award for having made an outstanding impact on students in the human anatomy course. The clinical instruction award was given to Dana Dunne, M.D., assistant professor of medicine (infectious diseases) for dedication and excellence in the classroom. Jonathan Weber, PA-C, assistant professor, internal medicine, received the Jack Cole Society Award for contributions to the physician associate profession.

Two students received awards for outstanding performance: Kimberly Lauth received the Dean’s Academic Award and Susan Curilla received the Dean’s Award for Clinical Excellence.