World Medical Association elects first woman chair

Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, immediate-past president of the AMA, last month became the first female chair of the World Medical Association (WMA) at the organization’s 200th council meeting in Oslo, Norway. AMA Wire® talked with Dr. Hoven about her new role and what she hopes to accomplish.

The WMA is the international organization representing physicians from 111 national medical associations. The AMA is represented by its three presidents, which includes AMA President Robert M. Wah, MD, AMA President-Elect Steven Stack, MD. Dr. Hoven has been chair of the AMA delegation to the WMA for the past few years and now will serve a two-year term as chair of the WMA.

Q: How does it feel to be part of WMA history as the first female chair?

A: I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to do this. I see myself not so much as a woman in this role but as a leader of a global organization of physicians who are working to support their peers around the world and improve the lives of their patients. I also am very proud to represent the United States and American medicine. There have been some amazing people from the AMA who’ve held leadership positions within the WMA before me, so we have a history of involvement with this organization. My work at the AMA has taught me how to be a responsive leader.

Q: What’s your No. 1 goal for the WMA’s upcoming year?

A: I would like the WMA to raise its profile internationally and increase the impact of its policies and advocacy on behalf of physicians and patients. It has a remarkable message about the duties of physicians, their relationships with the private sector and their governments, and their role in protecting the health of patients. Many national medical associations use WMA policies as global positions to influence actions of their governments.

Our work over the past years has given us extremely good credibility. For example, the work around the Declaration of Helsinki (which establishes guidelines for physicians conducting research on humans) has been very important in the global arena. But we have a lot of other topics under development—for example, the ethics around the uses of health databases and biobanks.

So I want to make our footprint bigger and our voice stronger. And I think how you do this is by engaging the various members of the WMA, reaching out to national medical associations from countries that are not yet involved and collaborating with other international groups, such as the World Health Organization.

Q: What is it like to work with so many different people and cultures?

A: It can be a challenge to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, because people are diverse in their languages, their cultures and their medical communities. Yet it’s that diversity of knowledge, backgrounds and practice environments that makes the WMA strong.

A classic example I can recall is when we were working on the Declaration of Helsinki. We were sitting around the table, and the way to address one particular ethical issue seemed so “obvious” to members from economically advanced countries. But that same issue was really difficult for a national medical association from a developing country because of how their countrymen were exploited in the past as a result of the poverty in their communities. It’s important to have these different perspectives when looking at global issues.

Q: Can you describe an issue the WMA is working on that’s particularly important to you?

A: This fall, Sir Michael Marmot will become WMA president. His work on the social determinants of health has been extraordinary. The WMA has adopted policy that supports the role of physicians and medical associations in addressing the societal issues that can impact health. I’d like to see the WMA serve as a platform for his work and undertake some specific activities that will demonstrate how physicians can help on these issues.

I also want the WMA to continue to speak out on violence against women and children. This issue is partly embedded in the social determinants of health, and such factors as women being victims of conflict and long-held cultural practices also play a role. I am confident the WMA can make a big difference for people around the world.