U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin announced late Wednesday that she will step down next month after four years in the post.

Benjamin, a longtime advocate for a health care model centered on wellness and preventive treatment, announced her decision in an e-mail to staff, thanking them for supporting her vision.

“My goal was to create a grassroots movement, to change our health care system from one focused on sickness and disease to a system focused on wellness and prevention. With your help, that movement has begun,” Benjamin wrote.

In an e-mail to staff, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said Benjamin should be “proud of her many achievements.”

“Regina has served as America’s doctor since 2009 and has impacted the health and lives of Americans across the country. I am deeply grateful for her leadership and service,” Sebelius wrote. “The Surgeon General’s road to prevention has touched the lives of millions of Americans and has had a positive impact on the health of this Nation.”

As surgeon general, Benjamin chaired the National Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health Council, which was created under the Affordable Care Act to develop a strategy to improve access to care.

“Regina has been passionate about changing our health care system from one focused on sickness and disease to a system focused on wellness and prevention,” Sebelius said.

Prior to her nomination, Benjamin served as CEO of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in Alabama, which she founded in 1990.

The Alabama native was also the first African-American woman board member of the American Medical Association, and served a term as chairwoman of the group’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs.

Deputy Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak will serve as interim surgeon general until a permanent pick is nominated.

The NAACP released the following statement in response to Regina Benjamin’s decisions to step down from her post as the United States Surgeon General

From Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman, NAACP National Board of Directors:

“Surgeon General Regina Benjamin has been an unwavering advocate for proactive policies that would create a healthy America for all,” said Brock. “Her leadership and legacy as ‘America’s Doctor’ will serve as a cornerstone of the NAACP’s continued efforts to ensure everyone has equal access to affordable, high-quality health care and to end racially disparate health outcomes.”

From Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO, NAACP:

“Surgeon General Benjamin has been an unparalleled ally in our work to eliminate racial health disparities,” said Jealous. “She has played a critical role in advancing preventative care measures in communities of color and championing meaningful access to quality, affordable health care.”

From Shavon Arline-Bradley, Sr. Director of Health, NAACP:

“Dr. Benjamin’s work has helped to shift our nations’ mindset about health care from reactive treatment to preventative action,” said  Arline-Bradley. “From her National Prevention Strategy to the Every Body Walk! Initiative to her efforts to curb childhood obesity, Surgeon General Benjamin brought attention to our nation’s need to refocus on strategies that encourage wellness for individuals and communities.”

Dr. Benjamin is the recipient of the 2011 Chairman’s Award presented during the 42nd NAACP Image Awards. Additionally, she was a keynote speaker at the NAACP’s 102nd Convention in Los Angeles and participated in the launch of the NAACP’s Childhood Obesity Advocacy Manual.

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