by Susan Rudd Bailey, MD
A few months ago, I was on airplane heading to a meeting. As we started taxiing toward the runway, safely fastened into my window seat on a full flight, I overheard a conversation in the row in front of me. The woman in the center seat was conversing with a gentleman in the aisle seat. It became apparent that he was a physician, and she asked him if he were a member of the AMA.
“The AMA?” he replied. “What’s the point?”
Since I was immobilized in my seat, I did not get the chance to answer his question (that he really didn’t want an answer to, anyway).
So, what is the point of being a member of the AMA?
The American Medical Association is the nation’s largest and most influential medical society in the U.S. and is a powerful ally of physicians and medical students. Our mission is “to promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health.” AMA’s work across healthcare is organized in three ways:
- Removing obstacles that interfere with patient care;
- Driving the future of medicine by reimagining medical education, training, and lifelong learning, and by promoting innovation to tackle the biggest challenges in healthcare; and
- Improving the health of the nation by leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and confront health crises.
The AMA has changed a great deal in the last decade – it is definitely no longer your granddaddy’s AMA! When I was elected AMA President-elect in June 2019, I joined President Patrice Harris, MD, and Past President Barbara McAneny, MD, as the first trio of women leaders the organization has ever had. The Board of Trustees of the AMA (BOT), who provides governance of the organization and carries out the will of the House of Delegates, is comprised of actively practicing physicians, a resident physician, and a medical student as well as a public member. Most of us are in private practice; some are in academia and some in large medical systems. We come from primary care and specialties. I have no idea what political party each belongs to. Texas has always been strongly represented on the BOT, and I am currently joined there by Russ Kridel, MD, a facial plastic surgeon from Houston.
AMA policy is set by the representative process of the House of Delegates (HOD), which meets twice a year to debate health policy ranging from medical ethics to economics to advocacy to education to science and public health. Half of the HOD, which now has more than 600 delegates, are from state medical societies and half are from specialty societies. Resolutions on health policy are brought from states or specialty societies, debated, and eventually voted on by the HOD.
Tarrant County has long had an active cadre of physicians and students who were active in the AMA. Currently, Gary Floyd, MD, serves on the AMA Council on Legislation, and Sealy Massingill, MD, is on the AMA Council on Long Range Planning and Development. I served on the AMA Council on Medical Education before I became Vice-Speaker. Steve Brotherton, MD, has recently served as Chair of the AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs. Other Tarrant County physicians serving on the TMA delegation to the AMA are Greg Fuller, MD, and Larry Reaves, MD. Ty Childs, MD, serves in the HOD as a delegate from the American College of Radiology, and Melissa Garretson, MD, serves in the American Academy of Pediatrics delegation. Our TCOM chapter has produced many student leaders, and I know our TCU and UNTHSC students will, as well.
I have believed since medical school at Texas A&M College of Medicine that being involved in organized medicine was a professional obligation and that taking the best care of my patients at the micro level also meant taking care of them at the macro level in Austin and Washington, DC. It’s hard to get health policy adopted on your own.
Big changes require big groups of people working together, and the more diverse the groups, the better the policy.
The AMA has a robust Washington, DC, office with talented staffers who are constantly in touch with the three branches of government, HHS, CMS, and the CDC. When a legislator wants to know what doctors think, they call the AMA. When CMS needs help with emergency telemedicine rules, they call the AMA. The heroes of the White House COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Deborah Birx, Surgeon General Jerome Adams (who was an AMA Delegate before he became Surgeon General), and Dr. Anthony Fauci are all AMA members, and all reach out to the AMA when they want physician involvement.
The AMA is deeply involved in medical education; they make up half of the LCME which accredits medical schools. They are active in the accreditation of residency training, CME, physician office laboratories, and the Joint Commission. They help appoint members of ABMS boards. They have worked on getting rid of Maintenance of Certification as we knew it, especially the high stakes exams and changing to a system more reflective of a physician’s practice needs (and more respectful of our time and money).
This year I will be sharing my travels around the U.S. and the world as AMA President with Tarrant County Physician and discussing the issues that are so vital to all of us. It will take the whole year to explain all the points of how important our AMA is, and I am eternally thankful for TCMS and TMA for supporting me throughout my career and helping me achieve this incredible honor.