A year at warp speed in a profession to be proud of

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 May 16, 2005.

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I now know that one lesson from Physics 101 was wrong. I was taught the fastest speed is the speed of light -- 186,000 miles per second.

No, a faster constant is the elapsed time from my inaugural as the President of the American Medical Association until this moment.

That warp-speed year has afforded me 10 opportunities to jot down my thoughts for your consideration here in the columns of the American Medical News. And, I have used those opportunities to chronicle just a few of the reasons I am proud to be an AMA member.

AMA's record of activism: How, since 1847, in the United States and around the globe, the AMA has espoused the science of medicine, promoted the ethics of the profession and extended care and concern for every patient we serve.

Leadership in disaster preparedness: The leadership and excellence our Association brings to the even more vital function of preparing for and dealing with both natural and man-made disasters that have become the scourges of the 21st century.

Everyday ethics: Innovations in our traditional role of ethicists, focusing on expanding access to care, improving the quality of care and building the sacred bond of trust between patient and physician -- all as ethical functions of a vibrant profession.

AMA advocacy: How proud I continue to be not only of the quantity and scope of our efforts in federal and state affairs, but in the quality and humanity of our efforts. The agenda items change over the years, but the steady, professional, mature voice of the AMA not only is heard but is valued more now than ever before.

AMA communications: The pride we share when we read and hear and see the AMA brand communicated to each of our many publics. In many ways through many channels to many audience members, the AMA story is told and retold, reinforcing our reputation for service, for ethics, for concern for our patients.

New Year's resolutions: My annual promises to myself reflected the Association's proud heritage of setting tough goals and accomplishing them. My pride was in the accomplishment, yes, but it was also in the very act of tackling forces that shape our profession, our Association and ourselves.

AMA educational leadership: The bedrock of our profession, the art and science of medicine, is a rich legacy we pass on to the next generation of physicians every day of the year. It does our Association proud to continue its visionary work in guiding the training of new physicians, upgrading the skills of existing physicians, and advising the regulatory and statutory processes that set the standards of performance.

AMA heroes: Our Association provides a forum for heroism, a gathering place of the eagles of medicine that soar above the rest of us, inspiring us and calling us to the highest levels of personal and professional excellence, the embodiment of the science, ethics and caring of medicine.

A sea change in American public opinion: My pride in the AMA extends to its role in leading America back to basics. Hearing firsthand from national leaders of their respect for and appreciation of the AMA as they documented what Shakespeare called the "tide in the affairs of men" that for so long seemed to be running against us. Now, more than ever, America values the role of its physicians and looks to you, me and the AMA with newfound respect.

These are just a few of the reasons my pride in being an AMA member grows year by year.

My final observation is, in a sense, a saving of the best for last. That is because one of the most heart-warming, stimulating and awe-inspiring aspects of the AMA that is such a source of pride for me is the AMA Alliance.

I know of no other association whose members' spouses are such a unified, motivated, effective force for good in America. From standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us, literally in all kinds of weather and in all kinds of places, to make our advocacy points with legislators and the public, to crouching down with little children to make the anti-violence points -- the Alliance truly is a mighty ally.

The Alliance, to me, is love with its sleeves rolled up. Men and women of the Alliance expend incredible numbers of hours and invest enormous resources of time, talent and money in what they do. Not for the personal recognition others seek when they make similar investments; not for ego but for those they serve.

When someone asks me about heroes of medicine, I think not only of those with MD or DO after their names but of those with Mrs., Mr. or Ms. in front of their names. Alliance members and their leaders across the nation perform thousands of individual acts of heroism -- the caring, concerned, respectful heroism of remarkable people with remarkable gifts and an attitude of pure service.

True, there still are problems to be solved:

  • We must find ways for every American to gain access to health care coverage. Our AMA has a great plan for this, explained on our Web site (link).
  • We can -- and must -- eliminate disparities in health care due to race and ethnicity.
  • We must overhaul the U.S. liability system. Clinical quality needs to improve constantly.
  • We must work to eliminate eight deadly behaviors or conditions (alcohol abuse, drug abuse, tobacco addiction, obesity, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, violence and suicide), not only because of the individual chaos they produce but also for their economic and social costs, now equal to an estimated 50% of all health care expenditures.
  • Finally, we can, I am convinced, control health care costs, and quality improvement is one sure route to that goal. A tall order, you say? Absolutely. Recall that a huge sailing vessel maneuvers by small movements of its tiller; by navigators working with prevailing winds and by keeping the vessel on top of the waves; that the entire enterprise moves forward through heavy seas and calm -- good weather and bad -- always pushing toward safe harbors.

As we make our way toward our goals, I ask for your continued help and cooperation with AMA leaders in making our journey together a cooperative journey.

Together, we truly are stronger.

For one year, I have had the privilege of manning the tiller. I thank you for that privilege. It is an enormous honor to have served as your president. And it is an enormously good feeling to join with you in supporting J. Edward Hill, MD, our new president.

I hope you can continue to say with me how proud we are in being members of the AMA.

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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