AMA issues apology on racial inequality
AMA issues apology on racial inequality
Shares current efforts to increase minority physicians
The American Medical Association (AMA) in Chicago in July issued a formal apology for its past history of racial inequality toward African-American physicians, and it highlighted its current efforts to increase the numbers of minority physicians and their participation in the physician membership organization.
The apology coincided with the publication of a commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) by Ronald M. Davis, MD, immediate past president of the AMA, titled "Achieving Racial Harmony for the Benefit of Patients and Communities. 1
A companion special communication published in JAMA published July 16, is titled "African American Physicians and Organized Medicine, 1846-1968."2
"The AMA is proud to support research about the history of the racial divide in organized medicine, because by confronting the past we can embrace the future," said Davis in a statement from the AMA. "The AMA is committed to improving its relationship with minority physicians and to increasing the ranks of minority physicians so that the workforce accurately represents the diversity of America's patients."
In his JAMA commentary, Davis wrote, "Physicians have long been members of a special moral community. They have sworn to uphold ethical principles that, in the case of the Hippocratic oath, date back to the fourth century BC."
The commentary noted that the AMA's first Code of Medical Ethics, adopted in 1847, "was introduced with a statement on equity." Davis also referenced the World Medical Association's Declaration of Geneva, which in its original form as adopted in 1948, states "I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient."
However, a "broader interpretation" of these two principles "would compel physicians to treat each other, as well as their patients, without prejudice.
But, Davis writes, "In this regard the AMA failed, across the span of a century, to live up to the high standards that define the noble profession of medicine."
The AMA said it created the Minority Affairs Consortium (MAC) to "address the specific needs of minority physicians and to stimulate and support efforts to train more minority physicians. The AMA's philanthropic arm, in collaboration with the MAC, awarded 12 students $10,000 scholarships under its AMA Foundation Minority Scholars Award program, for example.
"Five years ago, the AMA joined with the National Medical Association and the National Hispanic Medical Association to create the Commission to End Health Care Disparities," said Davis. "Our goal is to identify and study racial and ethnic health care disparities in order to eradicate them. We strongly support the "Doctors Back to School' program, which the AMA founded, to inspire minority students to become the next generation of minority physicians."
Davis also references the companion article by Robert B. Baker, PhD, and colleagues, which examines black-white relations over the history of U.S. medicine, outlining various instances in which equality was not upheld by the medical profession.
Among the harms he outlines from the article was the fact that the AMA listed African American physicians as "colored" in its physician directory in the early 20th century. Also, the AMA, he references, also was "silent" during the debates regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"These dishonorable acts of omission and commission reflected the social mores and racial segregation that existed during those times throughout much of the United States. But that context does not excuse them," Davis writes.
While noting the AMA's apology, Davis writes that the organization "recognizes that contrition cannot remove the stain left by a legacy of discrimination."
- Davis, Ronald M., "Achieving Racial Harmony for the Benefit of Patients and Communities: Contrition, Reconciliation, and Collaboration." JAMA, 300;3: pp. 323-325.
- Baker, Robert B., et. al., "African American Physicians and Organized Medicine, 1846-1968: Origins of a Racial Divide." JAMA, 300; 3: pp. 306-313.
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