An American Medical Association apology published in early July for adopting a racist policy toward African American doctors for more than a century has drawn a mixed reaction from the heirs of that racist legacy; namely, the black doctors of today who still find themselves at a distinct disadvantage in many areas of medical practices.
The July 16 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) accused white American doctors of failing to live up to the basic medical credo –the Hippocratic oath—sworn to by all physicians before entering upon practice. That oath obligates medical doctors to do all in their power to render all patients back to good health. The exclusion of black doctors simply because they were identified with a marginal and pariah group—black slaves—was hypocritical rather than Hippocratic, the journal points out.
"In this regard the AMA failed, across the span of a century, to live up to the high standards that define the noble profession of medicine," outgoing AMA President Ronald Davis argued in the written apology.
"The American Medical Association is concerned with correcting inequalities," says Jackson surgeon Frank McCune says. "Following up on its apology for a history of racist practices against black doctors, I think the AMA should set up a billion-dollar trust fund to correct the inequities that resulted from that policy that was officially put in place in 1847 at the founding of the AMA.”
The apology developed out of a study begun in 2005 to examine "the history of the racial divide in organized medicine." The AMA’s Institute for Ethics has posted the apology on its Web site.
"The AMA is proud to support research about the history of the racial divide in organized medicine because by confronting the past we can embrace the future," Davis wrote. "The AMA is committed to improving its relationship with minority physicians and to increasing the ranks of minority physicians so that the workforce accurately represents the diversity of America’s patients."
Working with Hispanic and African American doctors and their national organizations five years ago, the AMA created the Commission to End Health Care Disparities and announced its singular goal. “Our goal is to identify and study racial and ethnic health care disparities in order to eradicate them,” Davis reported at the time.
Like McCune, a doctor of longstanding credentials in a highly specialized area, surgery, Dr. Ron Myers of Tchula also questions the value of an apology for racism pure and simple.
"I consider the apology by the AMA for historic racial discrimination against African-American physicians a necessary first step toward the resolution of a greater problem," says Ron Myers of Tchula, who was forced to shut down his family practice in the Mississippi Delta after passage of a medical tort reform bill in 2003 that caused him to lose his medical malpractice insurance. "The apology does not include recent discriminatory policies and practices that have been supported by AMA leadership. I hope that former AMA President and board member, Dr. J. Edward Hill, will apologize for what he has done to undermine the medical practices of black physicians practicing in the poorest counties in Mississippi."
Myers blames Hill, also a resident of Tupelo, MS, for pushing him out of his family practice in 2004 during Hill’s term as AMA president. Myers is a nationally renowned jazz pianist, a minister of the gospel and is also the persistent chairman of the National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council (NJCLC) and President of the American Pain Institute (API).
Davis announced in an AMA press release dated July 10 that medical group has already begun to take steps to rectify the long-existing problem.
"The AMA created the Minority Affairs Consortium (MAC) to address the specific needs of minority physicians and to stimulate and support efforts to train more minority physicians," Davis said. "The philanthropic arm of the AMA each year provides $10,000 scholarships to medical student winners of the AMA Foundation Minority Scholars Award, in collaboration with the MAC. This year, 12 students received the award."
The AMA apology is inadequate to solve the problems it has created in the delivery of medical services to black people. It is inadequate to address a wrongdoing that started in 1847 when the AMA first came into existence. The AMA has always been a right-wing group that has perpetuated the ideology of the Greco-Roman Empire in America. It has formed a health delivery system based on those principles. Those principles are central to the policy of the AMA. And those principles were also central to the institutionalization of the Atlantic slave trade.
Among the principles undergirding the racist medical system, says McCunne, is the notion that blacks are inferior to whites. "That is the single most apparent idea that continues until today. It was instrumental to the pseudo-science and racism used to justify and to support the ideology of the people interested in maintaning the Atlantic slave trade, the most prolific economic institution known to man."
As the Jim Crow era (1885-1953) began to wane, a few black doctors were allowed membership in the AMA. Black doctor Peter Marshall Murray of New York was granted membership in the AMA House of Delegates in 1950. The association, nevertheless continue to tolerate racial expulsion. Even in recent years, the study group reported in the medical journal, "this legacy continues to adversely affect African Americans. In 2006, blacks represented 12.3% of the country's total population but just 2.2% of physicians and medical students. That proportion is less than it was in 1910, when blacks represented 2.5% of physicians and medical students."
Meharry Medical College in Nashville and Howard University Medical School in Washington are the two black doctor-training institutions that held the difficult responsibility of developing worthy practitioners who were invariably doomed to encounter racial rejection from their white peers and the hospitals that excluded them from the use of their facilities.
Meharry CEO Dr. Wayne J. Riley last week recalled the time when the AMA wrecked the careers of promising young black doctors.
Riley pointed to the dilemma faced by African Americans in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. They were "routinely denied medical staff privileges at hospitals because they weren't AMA members. But they couldn't become AMA members because they were African-American."
Riley said that he was both surprised and stunned by the apology published on July 16. "The significance of this apology is that it recognizes the psychic pain of physicians who were discriminated against by AMA chapters and affiliates, because it really did hamper their ability to fully practice medicine and enjoy the benefits that their white colleagues were accustomed to," he said.