Northam Mess: Physician heal thyself…(AMA weighs in…a bit)


Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has also been a physician.

As he weighs his next move amid the swirl of controversy over his wearing blackface or KKK garb on his 1986 yearbook page at medical school, I wondered: what does the nation’s most influential association representing physicians think.

Shouldn’t the American Medical Association weigh in?

Several days after I asked the American Medical Association about what Northam did, the AMA issued a statement today to HealthDataBuzz saying it has “zero tolerance” for any kind of discrimination.

“Respecting the diversity of patients and the physicians who care for them is a fundamental value of the medical profession,” the AMA said.

The AMA did not reiterate or reflect on the tawdry Northam incident.

Last Friday it exploded. The Hill reported why: “Northam’s 1986 medical school yearbook page showed two individuals, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan robe. The governor initially apologized for appearing in the photo, but later insisted he was not in the image. He has resisted calls for his resignation from state and national Democrats.”

‘Bigotry in Medicine’

Northam the politician is in trouble. But his conduct in medical school not only has “stirred a national political furor,” as the Associated Press reported, but it also “reopened the long history of bigotry in American medicine.”

“The revelations about Northam gave many African-Americans a new reason to be distrustful of doctors,” AP said.

In its statement, the AMA did not mention Northam or the particulars of the controversy. The AMA said it is “committed to improving health outcomes for all patients, confronting disparities in health care, and increasing the ranks of minority physicians so the workforce accurately represents the diversity of America’s patients.”

The AMA wasn’t asked that question. But it took the occasion of the Northam outrage to say there is a way to go that there may be enough minority physicians to reflect the face of America as it is today.

According to a Deloitte report, for instance, 68.2% of physicians and surgeons in the U.S. in 2016 were white, “making that the most common race or ethnicity in the occupation.” About 5.7 % are black — although African-Americans comprise 11.9% of the workforce, it said.

There is a way to go before racism is erased.

In July 2008, the AMA “issue a formal apology for discriminating against black physicians well into the 1960s, with damaging effects that persist today,” MedPage Today reported at the time.

The AMA acknowledged “its past history of racial inequality toward African-American physicians,” it was reported.

Joe Cantlupe, Health Data Buzz

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