Regina Benjamin grew up in the rural South, but the woman sometimes referred to as a "genius" had the opportunity to make a name for herself anywhere in the country.
Instead, she set up her nonprofit medical practice in Bayou La Batre, Ala. after receiving her M.D. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and completing a residency in family practice at the Medical Center of Central Georgia.
President Obama's nominee for surgeon general has never sought the spotlight, but instead dedicated her medical career to helping underserved populations in a rural area of her home state.
She earned an MBA from Tulane University while serving the needy who went to her clinic on a "pay as you can" plan and spent several years working in nursing homes and emergency rooms, using that money to keep her nonprofit clinic open.
"She certainly has the credentials to be surgeon general," said Dr. Manny Alvarez, managing editor of health for FOXNews.com. "As a community advocate, most of her work has been focused on improving health care outreach programs in underserved areas. She has certainly been on the forefront there."
Her work has earned her many accolades.
She was the first black woman and the youngest doctor elected to the American Medical Association's board. She also received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 1998, and Pope Benedict XVI awarded her the distinguished service medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.
She also serves on the Board of Physicians for Human Rights, is a former Kellogg National Fellow, has been featured as ABC Television's Person of the Week, and was chosen by CBS This Morning as Woman of the Year in 1996, according to the Kaiser Network.
Benjamin was forced to rebuild her clinic after it was destroyed twice by hurricanes, by Hurricanes Georges in 1998 and Katrina in 2005, according to a biography by the MacArthur Foundation.
The under-the-radar Benjamin is certainly a contrast to Obama's first pick for surgeon general, CNN TV doctor Sanjay Gupta, who turned down the job.
Despite her years of experience, assuming the role of surgeon general means she has her work cut out for her.
"The surgeon general position nowadays is more important than it’s ever been before," Alvarez said. "The surgeon general has to balance the needs of patients, hospitals, clinics and doctors so that in the health-care debate coming forward everyone has a voice."
Going forward, Alvarez said he would like to see the surgeon general determine a set of preventative health care protocols and tests that will be accepted industry-wide and work to minimize the amount of patients who get sick in the first place.
"In the past, the surgeon general has really been a silent voice in government," Alvarez added. "I would really like to see that changed."
Benjamin must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before she can be officially named surgeon general.