AMA doctors meet amid vocal backlash over racial equity | Scientific news


By LINDSEY TANNER, AP Medical Writer

The country’s largest and most influential group of doctors holds its annual policy-making meeting amid backlash against its most ambitious plan ever – to help dismantle age-old racism and prejudice across all areas of the medical establishment.

Dissenters are a vocal minority of doctors, including some white delegates from the South who accuse the American Medical Association of reverse discrimination.

Dr. Gerald Harmon, the group’s new chairman, is a 69-year-old white man from rural South Carolina who knows he is not the most obvious choice to lead WADA at this pivotal time. But he seems determined to shatter stereotypes and pointedly said in a telephone interview: “This plan is not up for debate.

The six-day meeting that began on Friday is being held virtually due to the pandemic. It offers physicians the opportunity to adopt policies that explain how WADA should implement its health equity plan. But some white doctors say the plan goes too far.

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Announced last month, the plan is unusually bold for the historically cautious WADA, recognizing that racism and white privilege exists in the medical establishment and has contributed to the health disparities exposed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Parts of the plan include the language of critical race theory, referring to the theft of native lands and centuries-old white supremacy. Dissenters took offense and attacked the plan in documents recently leaked online. A leaked draft of a letter to WADA leaders called parts of the plan “divisive, accusing and insulting.”

“White males are repeatedly characterized as repressive and, to some extent, responsible for inequalities. This … implies reverse discrimination, ” the letter reads. It was signed by Dr Claudette Dalton, member of the South East WADA delegation, four other doctors and five state delegations representing 68 WADA delegates.

Dalton said in an email that the draft letter had not been sent, but she declined multiple requests for comment.

Critics argue the plan should be put to a vote by delegates, but it reflects existing policies. It was developed by WADA leadership and staff based in part on actions taken at previous policy development meetings. This includes a statement last November that racism is a threat to public health.

Harm’s efforts to break down stereotypes include reflecting on his own experiences. He described a recent encounter at a South Carolina hospital with an older black man with COVID-19 pneumonia. The man was doing better but was not very communicative and mainly offered short answers to questions.

The man’s name was familiar, so Harmon sat down by his bedside and probed. “’What kind of work have you done? ” ‘Mechanic.’ ‘What kind?’ “Jet engines. “

With training in the Air Force, Harmon shared that he was familiar with jet engines, and the patient perked up. He had worked at a NASA research center in Virginia where Harmon had previously been posted.

“He was literally a rocket scientist,” Harmon said.

Harmon recognized the racial stereotype behind his initial impression. He said that is the kind of thinking that WADA wants to face. But he also noted that he took the time to learn more about the patient and find common ground – something black patients say white doctors often don’t.

American doctors, including members of the AMA, are overwhelmingly white. With around 270,000 members, WADA represents just over a quarter of the country’s physicians.

A measure at this week’s meeting would ask the group to create guidelines to help hospitals, academic medical centers and physician offices create and prominently display anti-racist policies that clearly define racist behavior and ” micro-attacks ”. can be as damaging as overt racism and prejudice, including assuming black patients are uneducated or female doctors clean up staff.

Amid strong evidence that patients do better when treated by doctors who look like them, another move calls on WADA to step up its efforts to create a more diverse medical workforce. This would include promoting programs to encourage interest in medical careers among high school and college students of different races, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations.

Other proposals on the meeting’s agenda call on WADA to promote policies that do not penalize medical students and physicians for wearing natural hairstyles or cultural headgear, and policies against the criminalization of transgender treatment.

Voting is scheduled from Monday to Wednesday. Harmon begins his one-year term as president on Tuesday.

The plan comes at a time of racial reckoning and as black doctors increasingly speak out against racism.

New York HIV specialist Dr Stella Safo said she never thought WADA represented people like her – a black woman whose parents are from Ghana – until the plan equity in health is put in place. She organized a letter-writing campaign among doctors urging WADA leaders to resist pressure against the plan.

“What they do matters to everyone,” Safo said. “We’re all watching. I hope they don’t back down.”

Follow Lindsey Tanner on Twitter at

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