In a keynote address at the Federal Engineer of the Year Award ceremony in February, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, M.D., drew the connection between good public health and good engineering.
She began her speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., by praising the engineers within the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. She also noted that this year is the 100th anniversary of engineers serving in the corps and commended those serving today.
Good health depends on more than just doctors' offices and hospitals, Benjamin told the audience. Our buildings, transportation, education, food, and environment all influence our health, and, as such, the nation needs to take a holistic approach. "Our [Public Health Service] engineers are helping us achieve that."
Benjamin then went on to say she was proud of all of the engineers in the room receiving awards, but she also challenged them to be leaders. "You are leaders," she said. "People look up to you—young people look up to you, your colleagues look up to you. So it's important that you take that leadership seriously. The award you're receiving today isn't just about you; it's about others who see you get that award."
The surgeon general explained her comments with an anecdote from her time as a doctor in Alabama. She told the audience that she always felt annoyed when the press contacted her for interviews that took time away from her patients. One day, however, she learned that her time was not wasted.
"I got an envelope, a manila envelope, in the mail and it was filled with letters from a second-grade class," she said. "Each one of the letters said, 'I saw your picture in the paper [and] I want to be a doctor just like you.'"
"Today you're going to get your picture taken as you receive these awards, and it's going to be in newsletters and it's going to be places," she then said, wrapping up her remarks. "Remember that you are inspiring someone else. So I challenge you to be a mentor, to be a role model, and to set the bar, and encourage young people, especially young women