Physicians’ Group Apologizes to Black Doctors

Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters, July 10, 2008

The American Medical Association, the largest physicians’ group in the United States, apologized to black doctors on Thursday for a history of racial discrimination.

The AMA said it will work to increase the ranks of minority physicians and their participation in the association.

The apology arose from the work of an independent panel of experts commissioned in 2005 to study the history of what the AMA called “the racial divide in organized medicine.”

“The point of the apology is to acknowledge our policies and practices in the past that discriminated against African American physicians,” Dr. Ronald Davis, the AMA’s immediate past president, said in a telephone interview.

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Dr. Nelson Adams, president of the National Medical Association which represents black physicians in the United States, said the NMA was founded in 1895 because of the AMA’s discrimination.

“Black doctors couldn’t be members of the American Medical Association,” Adams said in a telephone interview.

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“If you couldn’t get on the county medical society, you couldn’t get hospital privileges,” he said.

Adams said the AMA also refused to oppose the construction of segregated hospitals funded by the federal government.

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REGRET AND EMBARRASSMENT

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Blacks in the United States have a 25 percent higher rate for all cancers; a 30 percent higher rate of heart disease, a 40 percent higher rate of stroke and a 50 percent higher rate of diabetes, Adams said.

Several studies have shown that even when blacks have the same income, insurance and education as whites, they do not fare as well when it comes to getting medical care.

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He is particularly eager to increase numbers of black physicians, who make up only 3 percent to 4 percent of all doctors in the United States. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, blacks account for 13 percent of the U.S. population.

“There are fewer African American physicians per capita to date than there were in 1910,” Adams said.

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