Board of Trustees

New AMA president: Physicians must lead to reshape medicine

Physicians are obliged to show true leadership by modeling the right behavior, working together, developing consensus-based solutions, drawing on the skills of each health care team member, and demonstrating integrity and respect in their interactions, the AMA’s incoming president said in his inaugural speech during the 2017 AMA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

These obligations are especially heightened during a time when many patients’ access to health care is threatened by the uncertainties of health-system reform, said David O. Barbe, MD, MHA, the new AMA president, and the 172nd in the Association’s history. He is a board-certified family physician from Mountain Grove, Missouri, a town of less than 5,000 people where the median annual household income of $28,000 is just a little more than half the state-wide average of $50,000.

There are three areas in which physicians’ role as leaders is “especially critical,” Dr. Barbe said. “In advocating for health reform in today’s political environment, in describing and shaping the future of health care, and in mentoring those who will one day follow us in this profession.”

The call for integrity and respectful collaboration stands in stark contrast to the partisan divide that has befallen conversation about health-system reform in the nation’s capital, he said. That division struck during the debate seven years ago and it is happening again today, Dr. Barbe said.

“There are some factions in Washington that both then and now are saying not only ‘no,’ but ‘Hell no’ to working together—even on some of the most basic principles of access, availability and affordability,” Dr. Barbe said.

“I submit to you that that might be good theater, but it is not good policy. It’s not good politics and it is definitely not good leadership,” he said. “Good leadership is constructive, consensus-building and principled.”

Solo start

Dr. Barbe is in a position to know about such qualities. He began his career in a solo, independent practice 34 years ago and continues in that practice today. He also serves as vice president, regional operations, for Mercy health system with responsibility for five hospitals, 90 clinics and more than 200 physicians and advanced practitioners.

Every day, Dr. Barbe noted, he sees patients “who need tests or treatments, who are still uninsured or haven’t met their deductibles, and due to this, they often delay necessary care."

“Because of these patients, I see firsthand, every day, why the AMA’s unwavering goal of affordable health insurance coverage for all is worth fighting for,” he said. “Keeping this issue front and center is critical as we debate health system reform again—and again and again.”

Dr. Barbe noted the AMA’s core health reform principle—part of the Association’s comprehensive vision—that no one who has gained insurance coverage in recent years should lose it as a result of new health-system reform legislation. But, he explained, that principle is “flexible and practical” in that “we are willing to consider options for better, more cost-effective ways to cover the uninsured than we are doing now.”

Physicians should not allow themselves “to be corrupted or co-opted by the hyper-partisan political climate,” Dr. Barbe added. “We, as physicians, and as a profession, are better than that. As physician leaders, we bear greater responsibility within our profession and society. We must continue to put our patients before politics.”

In shaping the future of health care, Dr. Barbe said the AMA is leading the way by:

  • Listening to, supporting and empowering physicians and medical students in their quest to provide the best patient care. 
  • Representing all physicians through the AMA House of Delegates as they “work together to bring to life the ambitious AMA mission to improve the health of our nation.”
  • And serving all physicians by helping doctors grow professionally, solving physician workflow needs and improving the practice environment.

By helping physicians with better preparation and better tools, they can deliver better care, Dr. Barbe said.

“Taken together,” he concluded, “this is the way we will restore the joy to the practice of medicine.”

Read more news coverage from the 2017 AMA Annual Meeting.