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April 1, 2013 Volume 77, Number 4
What's New In... History of the National Medical Association P. Grace Harrell M.D., M.P.H., Chair, Anesthesiology Section National Medical Association

The National Medical Association (NMA) was founded by group of visionary African-American physicians in 1895. In the setting of racial segregation, membership in the American Medical Association (AMA) was de facto restricted to Whites. Physicians of African descent were often excluded from joining the local medical societies. Membership in a local society was required as a condition of membership to the AMA. The AMA was influential in determining national medical policy and when Black doctors sought membership in the AMA, they were repeatedly denied admission. The primary aim of the NMA was to give a voice to many disenfranchised physicians of African descent excluded from joining the American Medical Association. In 2008, at the NMA national meeting, the AMA issued an official apology for its previous policies of exclusion toward African-American physicians.

Disparities in medical care perpetuated poor health outcomes for Blacks and others. Blacks were frequently excluded from many hospitals and, if admitted, the ward conditions and their care were substandard. The priorities of the initial NMA meeting were to eliminate health disparities, gain professional acceptance and to improve medical care for all people.

The 1960s brought many changes to the American social and political landscape. There were changes in health care as well, including the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 outlawed the overt racial segregation in government-funded facilities, including hospitals. Despite all of these changes, disparities in access and outcomes in health care continue to this day.

The NMA has grown tremendously in the past century with nearly 100 affiliate societies throughout the country representing more than 35,000 members. The NMA serves as a collective voice for physicians and patients of African descent in promoting optimal health. The NMA seeks to 1) prevent disease, disability and adverse conditions that disproportionately impact persons of African descent and underserved populations; 2) support efforts that improve the quality and availability of health care to underserved populations; and 3) increase the representation, preservation and contributions of persons of African descent in medicine. The NMA has been an influential voice for changes in national health care policy, including The Affordable Care Act. In addition, it has introduced a number of innovative health care initiatives over the years.

“We Stand With You”– African-American Physicians and their Patients United for Improved Healthcare for All, is a recent initiative that aspires to engage all physicians and their patients in outreach and advocacy for better health. Preventive health care is an important objective of this initiative. At the invitation of president and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a delegation of NMA members recently traveled to Liberia. The purpose of this visit was to provide continuing assistance in re-building the medical infrastructure and medical education in a country recently devastated by civil war.

The NMA is on the frontlines of evolving issues that affect medicine, including burgeoning health care costs, eroding physician autonomy and the dilemma of treating uninsured patients in need of immediate health care. In the 21st century, the NMA focus is targeting the increasingly diverse communities that require health care services. The NMA is reaching out to culturally diverse medical organizations to develop a health care agenda that will meet the medical needs of a diverse American population.

Throughout the year, the NMA presents continuing medical education (CME) programs in six regions of the country. The NMA’s Annual National Meeting and Scientific Assembly, drawing physicians from around the world, highlights important scientific and medical advances for 25 subspecialty sections. These subspecialties include Aerospace and Military Medicine, Allergy Immunology and Asthma, Anesthesiology, Basic Science, Community Medicine and Public Health, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Neurology-Neurosurgery, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Ophthalmology, Orthopedics, Otolaryngology, Pathology, Pediatrics, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Physician Executive, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Postgraduate Physician, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Radiology, Surgery, Urology, and Women’s Health.

The National Scientific Assembly (the annual meeting) is recognized as a leading forum on African-American health issues. The multidisciplinary nature of the conference allows for multispecialty collaboration and the ability to attend lectures and workshops outside of one’s chosen field of specialization.

The Anesthesiology Section of NMA
The mission of the NMA Anesthesiology Section is to mentor and recruit postgraduate students into the specialty of anesthesiology, and to support the development of minority anesthesiologists in both academic and private practice. The section also presents an outstanding CME program relevant to the advances in our specialty and other specialties within the NMA. The anesthesiology CME meeting is where anesthesiologists (both private practice and academic) can mentor medical students and residents and interact formally with other subspecialty members (i.e., emergency medicine and otolaryngology on airway management or neurology-neurosurgery on back pain management) to discuss multidisciplinary issues. The NMA Anesthesiology Section members are also contributing members of ASA and continue to speak with a strong voice (especially on diversity) to our specialty and for all of medicine. Members of the NMA Anesthesiology Section have served on the ASA House of Delegates and held prominent positions in state societies, ASA committees, in anesthesia subspecialty organizations and as examiners to the American Board of Anesthesiology. Members also fulfill prominent roles within the NMA, are liaisons to the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) and are distinguished faculty in academic departments and leaders in private practice groups and communities. The NMA Anesthesiology Section remains focused on political issues that affect our specialty. To this end, for almost two decades we have had the president-elect of ASA address the section at our annual meeting on current national policies related to anesthesiologists.

2013 Annual Meeting
The next NMA Annual Meeting and Scientific Assembly will be held July 27-31, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Highlights of the Anesthesiology Section program will include a forum for residents to present their work, a Pain Symposium (combined session with neurology, neurosurgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, physical medicine and rehabilitation), an Airway Workshop (combined session with ENT and emergency medicine) and An Ultrasound and Regional Anesthesia Workshop. Other topics of this year’s program will be a Practical Anesthesiology Update 2013, Topics in Global Health, and Increasing Practice Efficiency.

Membership in the National Medical Association (and the Anesthesiology Section) is open to all. Although focused on the needs of physicians of African descent and underserved populations, everyone is welcome to participate. For further information on the NMA and the annual Scientific Session, please visit the website at

P. Grace Harrell, M.D., M.P.H., is Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology, Critical Care and Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.

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