American Medical Association Apologizes for ‘Past History of Racial Inequality’ Toward Black Physicians
The American Medical Association on Thursday issued an apology for more than 100 years of "racial inequality" toward black physicians and for the acceptance of racial segregation in the medical profession, the Wall Street Journal reports (Burton, Wall Street Journal, 7/11). In a statement posted on the AMA Web site, the group apologized for "its past history of racial inequality toward African-American physicians" and cited "its current efforts to increase the ranks of minority physicians and their participation in the AMA" (Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel, 7/11).
The apology accompanies a study and a commentary being published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. AMA acknowledges that, although the group has not engaged in racial inequality toward black physicians for decades, those past transgressions continue to affect medical care. The study emerged from the Commission to End Health Care Disparities, a work group co-chaired by AMA and the National Medical Association, a group that represents black physicians (Kay/Kohn, Baltimore Sun, 7/11).
According to the study, AMA from 1846 through the 1960s contributed to substandard care for black patients or segregated them to black hospitals; a lack of support for black physicians and for the Civil Rights Act; and exclusion of blacks from medical schools, hospital staffs and residency programs. The study concluded that past transgressions by AMA have contributed to the continued exclusion of blacks from the medical community. Blacks in 2006 accounted for 12.3% of the U.S. population but only 2.2% of physicians and medical students, according to the study (Wall Street Journal, 7/11).
"The apology is among initiatives at the nation's largest doctors' group to reduce racial disparities in medicine and to recruit more blacks to become doctors and to join the AMA," the AP/Raleigh News & Observer reports (Tanner, AP/Raleigh News & Observer, 7/10). "There is still animosity among some black physicians toward the AMA for its refusal to accept blacks into its membership," according to the Orlando Sentinel (Orlando Sentinel, 7/11).
Matthew Wynia, head of historical inquiry and director of the Institute for Ethics at AMA, said, "If we wanted to do anything credible in the area of health disparities, we had to take responsibility for any role the association had to play in segregation in the medical profession" (Baltimore Sun, 7/11). He added, "I wouldn't be shocked if this led to similar work by other groups" (Wall Street Journal, 7/11).
NMA President Nelson Adams said, "We applaud the AMA for coming forward with information that is not pretty," adding, "It represents a time to celebrate where we are" (Baltimore Sun, 7/11). Nedra Joyner, head of the board of trustees at NMA, said, "These persistent, race-based health disparities have led to a precipitous decline in the health of African-Americans when compared to their white counterparts and the population as a whole" (Orlando Sentinel, 7/11).
Levi Watkins -- a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, associate dean of the Hopkins medical school and the first black student at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine -- said, "I'm grateful for the apology. But the time for apologies is long since past." He added, "Right now I would like apologetic action" to address racial discrimination in the medical community and racial disparities in health care (Baltimore Sun, 7/11).
The apology is available online.
The study and commentary also are available online.
NPR's "Day to Day" on Thursday included coverage of the apology with comments from Adams ("Day to Day," NPR, 7/10). PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on Thursday also included coverage of the apology (Brown, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 7/10).