opinion

AMA stays on course in our turbulent times

A message to all physicians from Steven J. Stack, MD, chair of the AMA Board of Trustees, on how the Association is addressing major challenges facing medicine.

By — Posted April 15, 2013.

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“With gratitude for a job I love.” — Charles D. Baldecchi

As my year as board chair draws to a close, I am thankful for the many accomplishments the American Medical Association has achieved. Never have I been more proud of the Association than I am now.

For a start, consider our effort to transform the way future physicians are trained. An impressive 82% of all allopathic medical schools in the United States submitted letters of intent to participate in our $10 million, five-year initiative to fundamentally reform undergraduate medical education. Last month, 31 innovative proposals from the 119 we received were selected to move forward. These schools will now submit full proposals describing their visions for profoundly new approaches to medical school. The AMA plans to announce the finalists early this summer. There are few things that could have more impact on the future of our profession than completely redesigning how we train physicians.

On an entirely different front, JAMA and the nine specialty journals have given rise to the new, tightly integrated JAMA Network that has made every journal easily and comprehensively accessible. Taken together, these journals are among the largest and most widely circulated family of periodical scientific medical publishing in the world. Within the past couple of months, every one of the JAMA journals became available via the JAMA Network Reader, an online platform accessible from all commonly used smartphone and tablet platforms. Between now and August, you can access this for free on your mobile devices and computers online (link) .

Positive change is in evidence across a broad array of AMA activities:

  • Our Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs is in the process of modernizing the AMA Code of Medical Ethics, arguably the definitive ethical code for physicians, to reorganize its content and make it more easily searchable and accessible.
  • In 2012, AMA also enjoyed its second consecutive year of membership growth with a total increase of more than 3%.
  • In response to the impact of technology and changing generational preferences on the way professionals meet and collaborate, at the 2013 Annual Meeting, our House of Delegates will debate and act upon substantial reforms to our own leadership meeting schedule.
  • A few weeks after the Annual Meeting, AMA headquarters will relocate to a new home in an iconic building overlooking the Chicago River. From there, it will look ahead to many more years of service to our profession.

All of these changes — and many others — demonstrate an AMA that is thriving even as it approaches its 166th birthday this May 7.

This strength and vitality is a tribute to the many members of the AMA who share their time, energy and expertise, particularly during these challenging days.

The world is changing rapidly — both our health care system and our society in general. Physicians have lamented the ill-considered and capricious SGR formula for a decade. Now, however, the federal budgetary sequester has unleashed a similarly irrational budgetary ax not only on health care but across all of our federal government's spending. The military, federal employees, farmers, research scientists, artists and countless others are facing profound uncertainty in their professional and personal lives. The dysfunction seen daily on Capitol Hill is particularly emblematic of the inability to work together collaboratively to reach reasonable compromise and consensus. It is, if you will, a striking failure in the “plays well with others” category many of us see on the report cards of our grade school children.

This environment, characterized by frequent and erratic change, is deeply unsettling. It is particularly unsettling for physicians who have invested so much of their lives and their economic resources in education and training to practice in a profession whose future is in such tremendous flux.

And yet it is important that we as physicians not lose sight of the bigger picture. Truth be told, we have neither a unique claim to this stress nor primacy of standing relative to others who also face personal and professional uncertainty.

Against this backdrop, a strong AMA and we as individual physicians have so very much to offer — both through our medical expertise and also as leaders in broader society. It is imperative that we continue to advocate on behalf of our own profession, but it is also imperative that we not lose sight of the prevalence and diversity of human suffering and our unique ability to mitigate this suffering.

Even with the many aspects of health care that drive me crazy and even make me angry, I am quick to acknowledge that being a physician remains a special privilege. We owe it to ourselves and to our patients to work together to shape a better future amid the current chaos.

The principal of my daughter's school, Chuck Baldecchi, signs his schoolwide letters with the closing, “With gratitude for a job I love.” I think I know what he means. Having the privilege to serve as chair of the American Medical Association Board of Trustees, at a time when the AMA's work is so very important and so very exciting, has truly been among my greatest professional privileges and joys.

It is with this in mind that I look forward to a bright future for our AMA and our profession. I thank you, with gratitude, for a job I love.

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