AMA Actions Fostered U.S. Medical Racial Divide

July 15, 2008

From the post-Civil War years to the civil rights era a century later, the American Medical Association (AMA) made decisions that helped support a division between white and black Americans in the field of medicine in the United States, according to an article in the July 16 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

TUESDAY, July 15 (HealthDay News) -- From the post-Civil War years to the civil rights era a century later, the American Medical Association (AMA) made decisions that helped support a division between white and black Americans in the field of medicine in the United States, according to an article in the July 16 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Robert B. Baker, Ph.D., of Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and colleagues summarize a sweeping series of events underlying this racial divide, highlighting several of particular importance. At the AMA's 1870 meeting, the association excluded members of the racially integrated National Medical Society. Soon after, a former AMA president proposed that state societies should decide which local medical societies would be recognized by the AMA; since many societies, particularly in the South, observed overt racial exclusion, this barred most black Americans from the AMA.

Black physicians created their own medical societies, and in 1895 formed the National Medical Association. From 1906 to 1939, despite objections, the AMA's American Medical Directory noted black physicians as "colored." Later, the AMA was widely regarded as uninterested in supporting civil rights efforts, the authors write.

"The medical profession must have diversity in the physician workforce -- equivalent to that in the general population -- and equity in health care delivery for all persons. A unity of purpose must be achieved among all physicians, and the associations that represent them, to make this envisioned future a reality," writes Ronald M. Davis, M.D., immediate past president of the AMA, in an accompanying commentary.

Baker, Davis, and several reviewers of the commentary disclosed financial relationships with the AMA, and the project was funded by the AMA.

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