Doctor associations promote high standards in medical education, practice and ethics. They are also a lobbying group that represents the interests of doctors to local, state and national political leaders. They provide professional training and support to new physicians, conduct scientific research and publish medical journals and books. Some doctors belong to more than one medical association. The Florida Medical Association is the largest in the country and provides members with many benefits, including state-mandated continuing medical education courses at no charge or a discounted rate.
The American Medical Association was founded in 1847 to represent the interests of doctors and improve public health. Its goals included scientific advancement, establishing standards for medical education and launching a program of medical ethics. It also sought to improve hospital conditions. The AMA was the first organization of its kind to have a judicial council to handle legal controversies involving physicians.
During the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, the AMA criticized its own past support of racial exclusion, particularly in the South. As a result, some Southern AMA affiliates began to admit black physicians. The NMA also fought to desegregate nursing and medical schools, push for hospital integration and campaign for civil rights laws that protect patients from discrimination by healthcare providers.
Women in medicine struggled to overcome the cultural barriers that discouraged them from entering the profession. It took a combination of feminist ideology, the passage of federal legislation enabling women to attend medical school and fears of a manpower shortage to finally get female participation in medical schools up to 20% in the 1970s. The AMA created scholarship and loan programs for women, formed junior branches and awards to encourage more women to pursue medical careers and created a pamphlet titled, So You Want to Be a Doctor?
Physicians’ professional skills must be constantly updated to keep up with advances in medicine. The AMA’s founders recognized this and wrote into the bylaws that members must maintain a certain level of competence in order to retain membership. They established criteria for this that include presenting and publishing scientific papers, medical school or postgraduate teaching, and residency training. Those who don’t meet the requirements are dropped from the membership rolls.
The AMA’s past relationship with racism and white supremacy is a troubling legacy that has taken a toll on the morale and reputation of its membership. In the 21st century, the AMA has been more willing to admit its mistakes and work towards reforming the society that it has helped shape. Its most recent effort involved a report that found the AMA has long been rooted in white patriarchy and privilege, pointing out that a former president once practiced vaginal surgeries on enslaved Black women without anesthesia. The AMA also launched a crusade against health plan “gag clauses” that restrict doctor-patient confidentiality, leading to their elimination by five major managed care companies and laws prohibiting them in 16 states.