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History of the AMA Foundation

Margaret McGlynn, 2013 Physicians of Tomorrow Award recipient

Margaret McGlynn, 2013 Physicians of Tomorrow Award recipient,
volunteering in Uganda

Since its creation in 1950, the American Medical Association (AMA) Foundation has worked to improve medical education and public health through a wide variety of programs. Over the last 60 years, the AMA Foundation has distributed over $60 million in scholarships and over $40 million in grants to impact public health.

Learn more about each decade in the AMA Foundation’s history:


1950s: Support for the Nation's Medical Schools

While post-war America experienced an economic boom, the nation’s medical schools faced a serious crisis: the costs of training young physicians had skyrocketed, new medical technology made nearly all their equipment obsolete, and most were operating at a $10,000,000+ deficit.

The American Medical Association (AMA) heard the call for help and responded swiftly by establishing the American Medical Education Foundation (AMEF) in 1950 to raise money for the country’s struggling medical schools. In 1955, the Foundation forged its partnership with the AMA Auxiliary (now named the AMA Alliance), a nationwide network of chapters comprised of physicians’ spouses committed to promoting the AMA’s mission.

In a letter to the AMA from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the country’s gratitude was made clear:

"It would be impossible for me to exaggerate the vital importance of the Foundation to the national welfare. I wish you and your associates great success and assure you of my wholehearted support." 

1960s: Help for Future Physicians

In 1962, the Foundation decided to extend its support to aspiring doctors by establishing the Student Loan Guarantee Program. The SLGP provided low-cost loans to medical students, interns and residents.  In just one year, the program was helping one in every seven medical trainees in the U.S.!

Philip Burns, MD comments on the importance that the Foundation’s Student Loan Guarantee Program played in his life: "I was the eldest of five children and my parents couldn’t afford to pay my way through medical school. If it weren’t for the loan program, my father would have had to mortgage our farm to help me out."  Today, Dr. Burns is Chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Chattanooga.

Also in 1962, AMEF merged with the American Medical Research Foundation, which was founded in 1957 to support research programs throughout the country. The resulting organization was called the AMA Education and Research Foundation, or AMA-ERF.
The first accomplishment by the new foundation was its Program on Tobacco and Health, initiated in 1963. In collaboration with hundreds of researchers, the program produced nearly 800 publications and reports over the next 11 years detailing the pharmacology of tobacco and its adverse effects on health.

The Foundation’s annual sponsorship of the National and Regional Student Research Forums also began in the ‘60s. These forums brought medical, graduate, MD/PhD students, and resident physicians from across the country together to present original basic science and clinical research in multiple biomedical fields.

1970s: Expanding Scholarship and Research

Change defined the medical profession in the 1970s. To support that progress, the AMA-ERF provided support for a wide-range of conferences and symposia, from topics such as biomedical ethics to leadership seminars for women in medicine.
Foundation donors continued to play a crucial role in the Foundation’s success. For example, several scholarships were established at the Foundation to support outstanding medical students:

  • The Rock Sleyster, MD Memorial Scholarship for students interested in the field of psychiatry;
  • The Florence Carter Fellowship for students researching a cure for leukemia;
  • The Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Scholarship for students pursuing careers in science communications.

The Foundation’s Program on Tobacco and Health peaked in 1978 with the release of Tobacco and Health, an in-depth publication provided free by the Foundation to every library in America. Tobacco and Health summarized the program’s 11 years of research linking smoking and poor health.

1980s: Addressing the Changing Needs of American Medicine

New medical discoveries and growing costs shaped health care in the 1980s, and the AMA-ERF adapted its programs to advance its mission. Some of the issues that the Foundation tackled during this pivotal time in history included:

  • clinical nutrition
  • occupational and environmental medicine
  • the role of diet and exercise in health
  • the needs of seniors and people with disabilities
  • patient medication instruction and compliance
  • adverse effects of drug therapy
  • medical education
  • ethics of rationing health care
  • medical malpractice
  • the ethical and humane use of animals in health care research

Higher inflation drove up the costs of medical training. To strengthen its efforts in medical education, the AMA-ERF established the Medical Student Assistance Program (now named the Scholars Fund) in 1983. A special feature of the program allowed donors to designate their contribution to the medical school of their choice.  From the start, the program received enormous support from the AMA Alliance and continues to provide valuable support to medical students.

In 1986, the Foundation added the Award For Health Education to its recognition program thanks to generous funding from the McGovern Foundation. This award honors physicians who have distinguished themselves as health educators. Past recipients include former Surgeons General C. Everett Koop, MD and Julius B. Richmond, MD.

1990s: A New Focus on Service

In keeping with its strong tradition, the AMA-ERF continued supporting ground-breaking research and educational initiatives throughout the 1990s: genetic medicine, domestic violence, reproductive rights and children’s health were just a few of the topics spearheaded by the Foundation. Meanwhile, however, the Foundation saw an opportunity to start a new tradition: service.

AMA members have always been involved in community service, and this added focus enabled the Foundation to support its members’ meaningful pursuits on a local and national level.

Spurred by this new development, the Foundation began an ambitious revitalization in 1998. The AMA-ERF was renamed the AMA Foundation, launched a website, enhanced its programs and forged a solid long-term strategy.

2000s: Power to Physicians

The last decade has been pivotal for physicians, with promising medical and technological innovations appearing alongside increased regulation. Noting the changing landscape, the Foundation renewed its commitment to helping physicians become more personally involved in securing the future of medicine.

To that end, the Foundation mission and vision statements were revised to focus on medical education and public health. Foundation programs were streamlined to meet these goals and produce greater impact.

The need to fund program expansion was a new challenge for the Foundation, and in response the first major donor campaign commenced. The Uniting for the Future of Medicine (UFM) campaign was launched in 2005 at the AMA Interim Meeting. The campaign will conclude at the end of 2010, having raised millions of dollars for Foundation public health and medical education initiatives. In addition to new and refined programs, 15 endowment funds evolved from the UFM campaign.

The Foundation has taken practical steps to increase involvement in community health.  In 1999 it expanded the Health Literacy Program to help physicians communicate more clearly with patients, and in 2007 it developed the Healthy Communities/Healthy America Program to support physician-led free health clinics. Together, the AMA Alliance and the Foundation created the Healthy Living Grant Program in 2002. Previously named the Fund for Better Health, it has supported programs to combat violence, tobacco use, drug abuse, and obesity.

Scholarships were as important at the beginning of the 21st century as they were in the Foundation’s formative years.  The Physicians of Tomorrow Scholarship Program absorbed many scholarships under its umbrella and now annually presents exceptional medical students with $10,000 awards.

Responding to the growing need for diversity in medicine, the Foundation created the Minority Scholars Award Program in 2004 to support minority medical students. With help from Pfizer Inc., and the AMA Minority Affairs Consortium, the Foundation annually awards $10,000 scholarships to the best and brightest students from underrepresented groups in the medical profession who are dedicated to eliminating health care disparities. In 2009, the Foundation partnered with the AMA Women Physicians Congress on the Joan F. Giambalvo Memorial Scholarship Fund, which provides research grants that advance the progress of women in medicine.

To honor altruistic physicians and medical students, the Foundation began bestowing various recognition awards, and in 2003 created the Excellence in Medicine Awards. Those recognized go above and beyond the call of duty to improve access to care as well as actively take on leadership roles in organized medicine and community affairs.

Another reality of the 21st century is the steady decline in research funding. To encourage students and residents to consider research as a career and to support their scientific discoveries, the Foundation established the Seed Grant Research Program in 2000.

As we look to the next decade, the Foundation will continue adapting to the changing needs of a dynamic health care climate. At the same time, we anticipate that many of the programs that are relevant now will serve the Foundation’s mission for years to come. Your support is an important part of our future – join us today!