Reflections, wishes for AMA's new year

A message to all physicians from AMA President J. James Rohack, MD.

By J. James Rohack, MDis senior staff cardiologist at the Scott & White Clinic in Temple, Texas. He was AMA president during 2009-10 and served as chair of the AMA Board of Trustees during 2004-05. Posted Jan. 4, 2010.

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In 46 BCE, Julius Caesar declared that Jan. 1 would be the start of a new year. Caesar's inspiration was the god Janus, who was depicted as having two faces -- one looking back and the other looking forward.

This symbol of reflection and outlook may have spawned a tradition of declaring resolutions for the new year that followed. Benjamin Franklin was among the first to articulate the idea when he said that one always should be at war with your vices, be at peace with your neighbors and let each new year find yourself a better person.

As individuals, 45% of Americans make one or more New Year's resolutions. After the first week, 75% are still being kept. After six months, it falls to 46%. Actually, that's not so bad: Studies indicate that the chances of achieving a goal increases tenfold if one declares it in a resolution.

The top three goals Americans make are to lose weight, exercise more and stop using tobacco. The AMA Healthier Lifesteps Program has resources to help meet those resolutions. It also has tools to deal with another behavior that some get involved with on New Year's Eve -- risky use of alcohol.

In the spirit of Janus and the season, as we look back on 2009 and forward to 2010, I suggest the following New Year's resolutions for the AMA.

Maintain harmony within the medical profession. Abraham Lincoln pointed out that a house divided against itself cannot stand. While our AMA House of Delegates has robust debates and votes on policy, the discussion on health system reform showed the challenges to the profession to articulate policy a majority supports, when faced with a vocal, dissident minority.

To those who wish to weaken the medical profession, that splintering hastens the thing physicians fear -- the loss of autonomy to care for their patients.

Make the value of membership in the AMA evident to all physicians and medical students. The richness of the AMA's involvement in allowing an individual to be a physician in America is often forgotten or not even understood. From the time a student enters medical school, the AMA is helping to provide the educational standard framework to earn a medical degree and to pursue graduate medical education and continuing medical education.

The centennial celebration in 2010 of the Flexner Report will be an opportunity to remind all of that fact. The delivery of medical care, the coding system for payment, the infrastructure for quality improvement, public health initiatives, and disaster preparedness and response are but a few examples of the AMA's daily involvement that helps to make a physician able to care for patients more effectively and efficiently.

Improve communication between the individual AMA member and the AMA -- including its governance. Each AMA member has personal preferences for how to receive information -- be it an e-mail, a phone call, a letter or a face-to-face meeting.

The AMA has made great strides to improve and develop means of communication, but 2009 showed that more is needed to supply real-time information to individual members, as well as the news that touches nonmembers and the general public.

We need more efficient and effective means to let individual member give more input into policy development and prioritization.

Achieving these resolutions cannot be accomplished unless everyone in the Federation of Medicine is willing to work shoulder to shoulder. "Together, we are stronger" is not merely a slogan but a time-recognized reality. And it's an absolute necessity if an entity made up of so many components is to survive. It must be coordinated in its efforts to find common ground and achieve common goals.

Ensuring that the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health is achieved has that same relevance in 2010 as it did in 1847. It's a goal that should be achieved for our patients. And that's not just a resolution for Jan. 1, but a path to guide us every day.

J. James Rohack, MD is senior staff cardiologist at the Scott & White Clinic in Temple, Texas. He was AMA president during 2009-10 and served as chair of the AMA Board of Trustees during 2004-05.

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