As the country’s politicos have their sights set on the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor today, President Barack Obama nominated Regina Benjamin, 52, as the country’s new surgeon general, the “leading spokesperson on issues of public health,” Obama said.

Benjamin, a rural family doctor in Alabama, was a 2008 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, and in 1995 she was elected to the American Medical Association’s board of trustees, making her both the first black woman on the board and the first AMA trustee to be elected before the age of 40. In 1990 she founded the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, which cares for a largely uninsured working-class community that was hit by both Hurricanes Katrina and George.

In addition to providing for her ill patients—whether or not they can foot the bill—“she’s been a relentless promoter of prevention and wellness programs,” Obama said about Benjamin, who has had many relatives have die of preventable diseases. 

In her acceptance speech, Benjamin thanked two of her mentors: former Surgeon General David Satcher and former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Louis Sullivan.

If confirmed by the Senate, she will replace Rear Admiral Steven K. Galson, who has been acting surgeon general since October 2007.

The surgeon general “communicates the best science, evidence, and data to the American people for them to make healthy choices,” according to the Office of the Surgeon General’s Web site.

CNN correspondent Sanjay Gupta had been the front-runner for the spot earlier this year until he pulled himself out of consideration.

Seal of the U.S. Public Health Service courtesy of Wikimedia