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Courtesy of the AMA, written by CEO James L. Madara, M.D.

It is a difficult and potentially perilous exercise to examine our past through the lens of 21st Century thinking. Each person is a product of the time in which he or she lives, demanding both principled conviction and righteous humility when we make judgments about people who lived centuries earlier. 

We wrestle with this whenever we try to better understand those who founded our nation, and when we try to reconcile their actions with the values of equality that our country pledged in the Declaration of Independence. And yet, honest self-examination is a critically important step to better understanding ourselves, to heal old wounds, and to take corrective actions to address ongoing societal harms.

Grappling with our history

In 2008, the AMA concluded a three-year study on the racial divide in organized medicine and publicly apologized for our organization’s past discriminatory practices against Black physicians. The AMA’s apology was never intended to be the final word on the subject of race for our organization. In fact, the AMA called it “a modest first step toward healing and reconciliation.” This is a journey of reflection and action that continues.

As we grapple with AMA’s 174-year history, we must acknowledge that decisions by AMA leaders contributed to a health care system plagued by inequities and injustices that harmed patients and systemically excluded many from our physician ranks.

In 2018, our AMA House of Delegates adopted policy and a strategic framework for addressing health equity on a national scale, work that led to the creation of our AMA Center for Health Equity the following year.

Already, the center has become a recognized voice nationally on issues of equity and social justice in medicine. It is tasked with embedding the principles of health equity across our AMA and partnering with others to urgently eliminate longstanding barriers and structural inequities in the U.S. To advance this work, our AMA Board of Trustees and AMA House of Delegates last year named racism as a serious threat to public health and advanced concrete steps toward addressing it.

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