Physician Associations and Politics

Whether you’re a physician seeking a job or looking to expand your network, physician associations can provide credibility, direction and a team to work with. However, they can also take on political positions that may run counter to those of their members, especially in the current climate of health care reform.

In its earliest days, the American Medical Association (AMA) was founded in 1847 to promote high standards of ethics and patient care. Princeton sociologist Paul Starr writes that in those days, doctors were powerful cultural figures, and they used their power to shift public opinion.

At the time, the profession was loosely regulated; medical schools proliferated regardless of their quality. Consequently, many physicians were incompetent and sometimes dangerously overqualified. AMA leaders worked to codify new requirements for education and licensure. They also added membership perks like insurance coverage and malpractice defense, which drove enrollment.

The AMA eventually joined with state and local societies to form the World Medical Association (WMA), an independent confederation of free professional associations representing physicians worldwide. The WMA is governed by a Council, which includes representatives from the 116 national associations of doctors that are members.

A major objective of the AMA is to ensure the independence and safety of physicians, as well as their right to practice medicine at all times. Among other things, the AMA works to ensure that physicians are not subjected to arbitrary government regulation or forced to take on unnecessary duties.

Physicians are often involved in controversial debates over health policy and the role of government in health care. The AMA is no exception, with its position on various issues being widely discussed in the media and at meetings.

In the early nineteen-nineties, for example, the AMA was approached by the White House seeking support for a health-care initiative. While the AMA endorsed the individual mandate, it withheld support for other parts of the plan.

The AMA is known to be heavily invested in lobbying for its agenda, including the protection of physician autonomy and the integrity of patient privacy. It has one of the largest PACs in the United States. The AMA has a long history of supporting Democrats, although it does have some Republican supporters.

Despite their lofty goals, physician associations must balance competing interests, and they must be careful to avoid becoming partisan. For example, the AMA has made headlines for its anti-abortion stance, which is inconsistent with the stance of most of its members.

While some doctors have criticized the influence of industry on the AMA, the fact is that most professional medical and surgical societies rely on industry funding for everything from meetings to CME courses, research grants, fellowships and even patient educational brochures. While it’s important for societies to remain independent from industry influence, that doesn’t mean they should be apathetic to the impact that big money can have on healthcare. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of physicians to keep their professional societies free from financial conflicts of interest.