By Alison Harding
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- 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 preventable 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 tocare.
"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.