Reasons to join the AMA: Science, caring, ethics

A message to all physicians from AMA President John C. Nelson, MD, MPH.

By John C. Nelson, MD, MPHis an obstetrician-gynecologist from Salt Lake City, Utah, and was AMA president during 2004-05. Posted Aug. 16, 2004.

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In June, in my inaugural remarks as AMA president, I told a story about Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Nobel-prize winning missionary physician and founder of Lambaréné Hospital in Gabon.

There, in one of the poorest, least-served areas of the world, Dr. Schweitzer placed a single lamp on the pier leading to his hospital.

This beacon of hope guided all the sick and dying to his door.

Beneath the lamp was this sign: "At whatever hour you come, you will find light, and hope, and human kindness."

The AMA is like that simple lantern. In it and through it, physicians become better guides themselves. In it and through it, people find light, hope and human kindness.

That is why I am never the least bit shy about inviting physicians to join us.

The AMA is an activist organization fighting for America's physicians -- who in turn speak for America's patients. We are working for expanded health care coverage for all Americans, to eliminate disparities in clinical care due to race and ethnicity, for meaningful medical liability reform, for fair payments that accurately reflect care patients receive, for reduced red tape, for improved patient safety, for a host of public health initiatives.

The AMA is the voice of medicine.

Not a solo voice, by any stretch of the imagination.

But it is a voice in harmony with state and medical specialty associations, gaining a hearing and articulating what's best for America.

The issues are many and varied. The discussions and debates extend from Washington, D.C., to every state capital and out into the worldwide profession.

The AMA is there, and I am very proud of its record, its commitment and its future.

My father was an obstetrician, one of the first board-certified ob-gyns in Utah.

Dad was an exemplary physician and a community leader. He was of the physician-leader type common to many men and women in the Association today.

In talking with his modern-day counterparts, I have found a shared set of beliefs and attitudes that go a long way in answering the question, "Why am I an AMA member?"

We espouse a science vital to humanity.

We exhibit a special level of care for our patients and our profession.

We hold to a rigorous set of ethics.

Science, caring, ethics: Three overlapping circles of interest and ideas, three interlocking characteristics which, in balance, result in an appropriate and effective patient-physician relationship.

Science, caring, ethics: The absolute prerequisites for quality health care.

Science, caring, ethics: The cornerstone of American medicine.

These shared beliefs frame a system in which we live and work. The AMA, in turn, strengthens my ability to be a better physician. It strengthens the bonds that tie the profession together.

We work to save the dying, to heal the hurting.

We work to rebuild a health care system that now seems unfair and ineffective in so many areas.

We work so that all around us benefit from the light we bear within us.

This is what our patients deserve. This is what our profession demands. This is what the AMA helps us each to do.

There are many reasons for joining the AMA. I urge anyone who hasn't considered each of them to give them consideration.

For me, however, the key reason has to do with the simple principles of light; Dr. Schweitzer's light.

One lamp emits a set number of photons.

Many lamps emit a brighter light.

The more lamps we join together, the brighter the beams of hope and healing for a frightened and hurting world.

Each of us is effective. All of us can be an incalculable force for change.

That sums up why I'm so proud of my AMA membership.

I urge you, if you haven't already joined, to visit the AMA online (link) and browse through the AMA benefits listed there.

Learn for yourself how membership pays for itself, what resources are there to be tapped, what advocacy programs are at work for you right now and a host of other features and benefits that joining the AMA offers.

Then, if you have any comments or questions, send me an [email protected]" target="_blank">link.

John C. Nelson, MD, MPH is an obstetrician-gynecologist from Salt Lake City, Utah, and was AMA president during 2004-05.

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