Group once barred black physicians

CHICAGO — When the American Medical Association convened its first meeting, the year was 1848, and the main item on the agenda was pain, or rather the use of anesthesia to relieve physical pain. Fast forward 172 years to June 2020 and the AMA convened its annual meeting of its House of Delegates to once more deal with pain — but this time, it was pain of a nation riven by centuries of racism and staggering under the burden of a pandemic.

And, against that background, the AMA, which was long criticized by many as “a good ’ole’ boys’ club” out-of-step with a more diverse medical community, issued a forceful condemnation of racism. Unlike previous House of Delegates meetings that were gaveled to order by flag-waving and marching bands — yes, marching bands inside crowded ballrooms — the 2020 meeting was virtual, relying on state-of-the-art technology.

In a video, the AMA’s board of trustees declared that “racism, in its systemic, structural, institutional, and interpersonal forms, is an urgent threat to public health, the advancement of health equity, and a barrier to excellence in the delivery of medical care.”

The board’s action followed publication of a scathing indictment of police brutality issues in a viewpoint article.

In the action approved by the trustees June 7, the AMA went on-the-record:

  • Opposing all forms of racism.
  • Denouncing police brutality and all forms of racially motivated violence.
  • Pledging to actively work to dismantle racist and discriminatory policies and practices across all of health care.

And, the AMA owned its role in the culture of racism, noting that it “recognizes that worsening inequities, unequal access to care, and the disproportionately small number of Black physicians all have roots in past actions of the AMA. In 2008, the AMA apologized for more than a century of policies that excluded Black physicians,” it said in a statement.

“In 2019, the AMA hired its first chief health equity officer to establish the AMA Center for Health Equity to solidify AMA’s commitment to embed health equity into the DNA of our organization and our work. Over the past few months, the AMA has issued strong statements denouncing police brutality, racism, and xenophobia in the language of public officials. The AMA fully understands that there is tremendous work still to be done to ensure that no one is left out and that everyone has the opportunity, conditions, resources, and power to achieve optimal health.”

In other business, the AMA inaugurated a new president, Susan R. Bailey, MD, an allergist from Fort Worth and elected Gerald E. Harm, MD, a family physician from Pawleys Island, South Carolina, as president-elect.

Peggy Peck, Editor-in-Chief, BreakingMED

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