Jeff Lagasse, Healthcare Finance, February 17, 2021
In an attempt to come to terms with an intolerant past, the American Medical Association has removed a bust of their founder from AMA headquarters in Chicago, citing a history of racism that CEO and Executive Vice President Dr. James Madara said no longer reflects the organization’s values.
As drafter of the 1845 resolution that ultimately led to the establishment of the AMA, Dr. Nathan Davis is commonly thought of as the organization’s founder, having commonly been referred to as its “father” over the course of its 174-year history. Through a modern lens, however, it’s easy to see how many of Davis’ stances and actions furthered inequities and injustices that harmed patients and excluded minority physicians from the AMA’s ranks.
Perhaps the most striking example of Davis’ discriminatory practices occurred when a physician group composed of both Black and white physicians appealed to join the AMA House of Delegates. Other AMA physicians supported membership for this integrated group, but Davis blocked the acceptance through parliamentary maneuvers, thereby blocking integration and doubling down on racist policies for AMA membership by leaving admission standards to regional medical societies. In many cases, these societies banned participation of women and Black physicians.
This would remain AMA policy until race- and gender-based discrimination was officially outlawed by the Civil Right Act of 1964.
The AMA has also removed Davis’ name from an award the organization gives annually to honor individuals for outstanding government service.