If you’re not an AMA member, you have no right to complain

All American physicians should be members of the American Medical Association (AMA). And, while they are at it, they should also be members of their county, state, and principal specialty societies.

Why? Because they are the only games in town, and both security and safety are top Maslow imperatives.

The only real political power any physician has is the individual power of persuasion and participation (or not) and the power of a group.

American physicians, if united, would have huge clout, speaking with one voice. American physicians, divided as now, speak with hundreds of thousands of individual voices, a cacophony of futility.

As The Bard saith in Macbeth “… tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

If you are an American physician and you don’t like what the AMA has done and is doing, if you are not a member, shut your mouth, you have no right to complain.

If you blame the AMA for the sorry state of American medicine in 2012, you are at least partly correct. But there is plenty of blame to spread around to many other culpable individuals and groups.

Many physicians feel that the AMA has not represented their physician interests effectively enough. Since 85% of American practicing physicians are not AMA members, what right have they to blame the AMA? None.

The AMA has in fact represented the interests of American physicians a great deal. Perhaps even too much.

After all, the mission statement of the AMA is “to promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health.” That statement takes into account the unselfishness that is supposed to characterize a learned professional … that patient and public interest trump personal interest.

If a large majority of American physicians disagree with that basic tenet, they should organize and seek to change federal and state laws that actively discourage formal collective bargaining by physicians. Form a real union, either by changing the AMA, or with a replacement national organization.

Frankly, I believe that a medical student should automatically become an AMA member the first day of medical school, and that such membership should be lifelong. Call it a “mandate for professionalism.”

Were there such a sea change, physicians really could exercise group power and begin to “signify something” with targeted collective sound and fury.

American medicine is entering a period of even more hazard for the concept of medicine as a learned profession. Togetherness is imperative.

And before any reader asks “how much did the AMA pay you to shill for them?”, be assured that, after my departure from the JAMA job in 1999 was settled out, I have received zero dollars from it. And, I still pay my dues as a member, since 1968.

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George Lundberg is a MedPage Today Editor-at-Large and former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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