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Meet Patrice Harris; American Medical Association’s First Ever Female Black President

Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, a psychiatrist from Atlanta has made history as the first African-American woman to be president of the American Medical Association (AMA).

Dr. Harris was sworn in as the 174th president of the United States’ premier physician organization in June 2019.

A native of Bluefield, West Virginia, Dr. Harris had always dreamt of pursuing medicine.

She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from West Virginia University in 1982 at a time when few women of color were encouraged to be physicians.

She would go on to receive her Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology and her medical degree from the same university between 1982 and 1992.

Dr. Harris moved to Atlanta to begin her residency. She has a huge passion to help children. During the same period, she fellowshipped in adolescent psychiatry and forensic psychiatry at the Emory University School of Medicine.

With experience as a private practicing physician, public administrator, patient advocate, and medical society lobbyist, Dr. Harris’ role as president includes attacking the dysfunction in health care by removing obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care; driving the future of medicine by reimagining medical education, training, and lifelong learning, and by promoting innovation to tackle the biggest challenges in health care; and leading the charge to confront the chronic disease crisis and improve the health of the nation, Black History reported.

“We are no longer at a place where we can tolerate the disparities that plague communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. But we are not yet at a place where health equity is achieved in those communities,” said Dr. Harris following her appointment.

“We are no longer at a place where underrepresented groups are not welcome in medicine, but we are not yet at a place where underrepresented groups are entering or graduating from medical schools at the rates of their peers.

“The saying ‘if you can see it, you can believe it’ is true,” she also said. “And I hope to be tangible evidence for young girls and young boys and girls from communities of color that you can aspire to be a physician. Not only that, you can aspire to be a leader in organized medicine.”

Previously, Dr. Harris served on the AMA Board of Trustees since 2011, and as chair from 2016 to 2017, she has long been a mentor, a role model, and an advocate.

Before serving on the board, Dr. Harris honed her broad knowledge and deep understanding of health care issues through various leadership roles, a bio of her on the AMA website said.

These included having served for many years on the AMA Council on Legislation, including a term as chair, and multiple AMA task forces on topics such as health information technology, payment, and delivery reform, and private contracting.

Beyond the AMA, she has held positions of leadership with the American Psychiatric Association, the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association, the Medical Association of Georgia, and The Big Cities Health Coalition, where she chaired this forum composed of leaders from America’s largest metropolitan health departments.

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