The history of African Americans and organized medicine

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Segregation and racism within the medical profession have, and continue to, profoundly impact the African American and other historically marginalized communities. Yet, the complex history of race in the medical profession is rarely acknowledged and often misunderstood. 

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For more than three decades, the AMA has worked to address its past discriminatory and harmful practices and its role in helping create inequities in health care and medicine.

  1. 1989

    1. The AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs issued a report entitled, Black-White Disparities in Health Care, which framed the inequitable provision of medical care according to race as an ethical problem.

  2. 1995

    1. The AMA House of Delegates adopted a report on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care. Recommendations included “That the American Medical Association maintain a position of zero tolerance toward racially or culturally based disparities in care,” among additional provisions.

  3. 2004

    1. The AMA launched the Commission to End Health Care Disparities, co-sponsored by the National Medical Association (NMA), with 37 public health, state and medical specialty societies, and other organizations.

  4. 2005

    1. The AMA Institute for Ethics invited a panel of experts to review and analyze the historical roots of the black-white divide in U.S. medicine and resulted in an in-depth article, published in JAMA in 2008, that explored racism and racist practices at the AMA beginning with its founding in 1847.

  5. 2008

    1. The AMA made a formal apology for its past discrimination and former AMA President Ronald M. Davis, MD, discussed historic harms committed against Black physicians and patients. Dr. Davis also addressed the National Medical Association membership (PDF) and noted “our apology is a modest first step toward healing and reconciliation.”

  6. 2019

    1. The AMA launches its Center for Health Equity upon hiring its first chief health equity officer to embed health equity across the organization and work to eliminate health inequities that are rooted in historical and contemporary injustices and oppression in medicine and the health system.

  7. February 2021

    1. The AMA removes bust of Dr. Nathan Davis, one of the founders of the AMA, from public display and acknowledges his role in blocking integration and promoting and embedding racism in the AMA.

  8. May 2021

    1. AMA releases an ambitious strategic plan to embed health equity in our health system—starting from within the organization. This plan outlines AMA’s vision of optimal health for all and its conviction to become a diverse, multicultural anti-racist organization that advances equity and justice, contributes to improving outcomes and quality in health care, and closes historical and contemporary inequities in health.

In recent years, the AMA has worked to address its past harm through the establishment and work of the AMA Center for Health Equity, along with the implementation of the Organizational Strategic Plan to Embed Racial Justice and Embed Health Equity.

Through the Center for Health Equity, the AMA has initiated partnerships and investments to improve health equity at the organization and in the broader community. These initiatives include the West Side United partnership, the Medical Justice in Advocacy Fellowship program and the Truth, Reconciliation, Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Task Force.

Based on policy passed at the June 2021 Meeting of the AMA House of Delegates, the AMA Board of Trustees (BOT) in 2023 appointed the TRHT Task Force to serve in an advisory capacity to the Board over the next two years. Consistent with the HOD policy directive being implemented by the BOT, the TRHT Task Force will help inform organizational transformation within and beyond the AMA toward restorative justice in medicine and medical education. Learn more about this work.

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