Moments after being sworn in as the AMA’s 174th president, Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, reflected on a career and life journey that she called an “unlikely” one.
“It’s truly a dream come true to stand before you tonight,” said Dr. Harris, a psychiatrist from Atlanta who is the first black woman to hold the Association’s highest office. “A dream my ancestors, parents, my extended family, and my friends supported before it even entered my imagination. A dream my West Virginia, Georgia, psychiatry and AMA families helped me achieve. And I know in my heart that, tonight, I am my ancestors' wildest dreams.”
Dr. Harris succeeded Barbara L. McAneny, MD, who has moved to the role of Immediate Past President. Earlier during the 2019 AMA Annual Meeting, Susan R. Bailey, MD, was voted president-elect. It marks the first time in the Association’s history that women have held all three president positions at the same time.
The diversity at the top represents a changing face for the AMA, and Dr. Harris said that differences within the AMA’s membership are a strength—yet what unites these physicians is even more powerful.
“While we have many differences, at the AMA, we have this common goal: Through this great organization, we believe we can uplift our profession, we believe we can improve care for all of our 300-plus million fellow Americans, and we believe we can stand as leaders in health care across the globe,” Dr. Harris said during her inaugural address tonight in Chicago.
“And lead we must, and we will, but our core values—access to health care for all, diversity and inclusion, the primacy of the patient-physician relationship, the advancement of science and public health. These core values will not be part of the health care landscape unless we ensure that they are.”
Embracing the challenges
Medicine needs allies and it will take leadership and teamwork to find the right ones, Dr. Harris said. Those allies are necessary to confront the numerous challenges physicians face. Among those Dr. Harris highlighted:
- The potential rollback of the Affordable Care Act and the millions of Americans who lack health care coverage.
- A lack of physicians from underrepresented groups in medicine.
- Physician shortages in rural America.
- The use of e-cigarettes by impressionable young Americans.
- The fact that one in two American adults struggles with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
- The rising cost of pharmaceuticals.
She also noted the continuously alarming rate of fatal overdoses related to the opioid epidemic. This issue is one on which Dr. Harris has been a vocal leader. As president, she will continue to serve as chair of the AMA Opioid Task Force.
To emphasize the importance of the issue, Dr. Harris stated that a year from now, when she looks back on her presidency, she hopes to say that during her time in office America “saw the end to the opioid epidemic on the horizon, and furthered alliances in Washington and across every state to remove barriers to treatment for those diagnosed with substance-use disorders.”
The year ahead
Other goals Dr. Harris laid out for her presidency include parity for mental health, increased health equity and prior-authorization reform that benefits patients.
“I ask you to join me in taking the next step of leadership and intentionally make decisions that will bind, forge, move and create history,” Dr. Harris said.
In highlighting that the AMA this week adopted policy that calls health a basic human right, Dr. Harris made clear the Association’s power is in its membership.
“Let us commit tonight to move medicine forward again this year,” Dr. Harris said. “We can do this. Because when we all join together, bringing our differing perspectives, backgrounds, experiences and resources to bear that's when we can truly move medicine forward for the good of our patients, the profession, the nation and the world.”