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AMA doctors meet amid vocal backlash over racial equity plan

by Mary Sewell

The nation’s largest, most influential doctors’ group is holding its annual policymaking meeting amid the backlash over its most ambitious plan ever — to help dismantle centuries-old racism and bias in all realms of the medical establishment. The dissenters are a vocal minority of physicians, including some white Southern delegates who accuse the American Medical Association of reverse discrimination.

Dr. Gerald Harmon, the group’s incoming president, is a 69-year-old white native of rural South Carolina who knows he isn’t the most obvious choice to lead the AMA at this pivotal time. But he seems intent on breaking down stereotypes and said pointedly in a phone interview, “This plan is not up for debate.” The six-day meeting that began Friday is being held virtually because of the pandemic. It offers a chance for doctors to adopt policies that spell out how the AMA

should implement its health equity plan. But some white doctors say the program goes too far. Announced last month, the goal is unusually bold for the historically cautious AMA, acknowledging that racism and white privilege exist in the medical establishment and have contributed to health disparities laid bare during the coronavirus pandemic.

Portions of the plan include the language of critical race theory, referencing the theft of native lands and centuries-old white supremacy. The dissenters took offense and attacked the goal in documents recently leaked online. One leaked draft of a letter intended for AMA executives called portions of the plan “divisive, accusatory and insulting.”

“White males are repeatedly characterized as repressive and to some degree responsible for the inequities. This … implies reverse discrimination,” the letter said. It was signed by Dr. Claudette Dalton, an AMA’s Southeastern delegation member, four other physicians, and five state delegations representing 68 AMA delegates.

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