The American Medical Association on Thursday issued a formal apology for more than a century of discriminatory policies that excluded blacks from participating in a group long considered the voice of U.S. doctors.
The apology stems from initiatives at the nation's largest doctors' group to reduce racial disparities in medicine – from the paltry number of black physicians to the disproportionate burden of disease among blacks and other minorities.
“The AMA is committed to improving its relationship with minority physicians and to increasing the ranks of minority physicians so that the work force accurately represents the diversity of America's patients,” Dr. Ronald Davis, the group's immediate past president, said in a statement posted on the AMA's Web site.
For decades, AMA delegates resisted efforts to get them to speak out forcefully against discrimination or to condemn smaller medical groups that barred blacks and historically have had a big role in shaping AMA policy.
While the national organization didn't have a blatant policy against black doctors, physicians were required to be members of the local groups to participate in the AMA, Davis said in a phone interview.
“To the extent that our practices may have impeded the ability of African American physicians to interact collegially with white physicians, it's conceivable” that patient care was harmed, Davis said.
Many physicians applauded the AMA's move.
Dr. Nelson Adams, president of the National Medical Association, said the apology was courageous and “extremely important.”
AMA's discriminatory actions hurt black doctors and kept many from working and caring for patients, Adams said. That's because in many places doctors couldn't work in hospitals unless they were members of local medical societies, he said.
While blacks represent roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, less than 3 percent of the nation's 1 million doctors and medical students are black, Adams noted.
And according to 2006 data on AMA's Web site, less than 2 percent of AMA members and voting delegates are black.