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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Journey to Joy: Painting Regina Benjamin, MD

On July 13th 2010, I met Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin.  She stood at the podium and explained from the provider perspective the importance of electronic medical records in clinical practice.  Moments later I stood in her place and spoke about the importance of access to the electronic medical record from the patient perspective.

That day was the announcement of stage one Meaningful Use.

Shoot the Moon

Based on her account on that day I painted a picture upon a jacket.  For over nine months Ted Eytan, MD has worn that story on his back to venue after venue.  His has told many of the powerful work of Regina Benjamin, primary doctor.

Celebration: The ONC Launch

On September 13th 2011, I met Regina again.  She was onstage at the ONC Consumer e-Health Launch.  That was a magical day.  On that day the patient stood front and center.  I stood in the back of room and painted speaker after speaker as they addressed the need for patient participation in healthcare.  An entire panel of patients sat upon the stage.

I painted joy that day and Dr. Regina Benjamin was in the middle of that joy.

Regina Benjamin and Regina Holliday at ONC Consumer e-Health Launch

Afterwards she came to my easel, she was so happy to see the resulting painting.  A few weeks later, I walked to the metro with the painting in hand.  Then took the train to the closest Metro Stop.  Then walked to HHS.  I think Regina would appreciate my healthy journey to deliver the painting.  I left the art in her office on loan and in good hands.

Regina Benjamin's Office

On February 23rd, 2012 I greeted Regina once again.  We were at HIMSS in Las Vegas and would both be keynoting the opening session of Leading From the Future.  I spoke first and mentioned her within my slides.  Then I descended from the stage and Regina began to speak.

She took us on a journey filled with words and pictures.  As she spoke, I began to paint.

"Journey to Joy"

She told us she lost her paper medical records twice to flood waters and once to fire.  She explained how she and her staff lay page after page of medical records upon the sunny ground surrounding the practice.  Ah, the bravery of this woman! When others might fear a HIPPA violation, and so let such data molder, she did all she could to help her patients maintain their treatment history.  She said that after the hurricane she had no prescription forms and tore up pieces of bond paper and hand wrote prescriptions.  Many of her patients had no funds for food let alone medicine.  She covered the cost of many of those prescriptions herself.

So in this painting, Regina holds her torn prescription sheets and they fly around her to become the data that fills an EHR.  Behind her blue water flows upward, a red ribbon of fire destroys the paper past and green data streams save lives.

the data path
As she said that day “An EHR means never having to dry wet charts in the sun again.” 

But Regina speaks of far more than data, she told us about her better health campaign.  She wants to increase the health level of patients at every stage of life.  She told us we must not focus on what we can’t do; instead focus on what we can do. 

We must start our journey to joy. 

She said one in four American’s do not know that they have diabetes.  She said we must become aware of our health status and we must learn about our family medical history through generations.

She addressed the power of social media to spread the message of better health.  She spoke of a partnership with Facebook to report suicidal comments.  She explained that she had recently joined twitter as @SGRegina and participated in a heart chat that reached over three million people. 

Regina Benjamin Surgeon General

She spoke about reason some women forgo exercise and said it was okay to have a “bad hair day.”  As the daughter of her hair stylist, Regina was well aware many women were not getting the exercise they needed, as they were concerned about maintaining their hairstyles.  Some people may consider this a “soft” issue, but women must often choose between economic viability and exercise.   If that is the choice, most women will choose to look professional and maintain employment. She also spoke of her continuing outreach to hair stylists as health ambassadors.  People see their hairstylists and barbers often.  She said hair professionals could be a great resource for promoting public health. I was so glad to hear this, as I am very aware of the palliative effect of hairstyling.

After her speech, we both stood upon the stage and answered question after question in tandem.  It was beautiful. It was participatory medicine at its finest and I am so honored to join Regina in her journey to joy.

Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and Regina Holliday at HIMSS 12 photo by Mark Scrimshire


  1. Agreed -- LOVE!

    How lucky I am to know both Reginas.
    How lucky the world is to have both Reginas fighting for patients everywhere.

    I count those blessings every day.

  2. To see true beauty or value in a painting of any sort, or to see the painting more clearly from a distance if the artist does some sort of special training.