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American Medical Association Declares Racism A Public Health Threat

The AMA acknowledged that racism “negatively impacts and exacerbates health inequities” in communities of color, citing healthcare bias and police violence.

Protesters hold a "Black Lives Matter" sign and raise their fists as they march through Greenwich Village in a demonstration over the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police on June 19, 2020 in New York, NY | Getty Images
Protesters hold a "Black Lives Matter" sign and raise their fists as they march through Greenwich Village in a demonstration over the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police on June 19, 2020 in New York, NY | Getty Images

The American Medical Association (AMA) has declared racism a public health threat, citing unconscious bias in the healthcare industry and violent police interactions. 

In a statement on November 16, the AMA's policy-focused body, the AMA House of Delegates, announced that it had voted to adopt several measures acknowledging and addressing racism in the medical industry. The policy specifically calls on medical workers and physicians to acknowledge “racism’s role in perpetuating health inequities and inciting harm against historically marginalized communities.”

A recent poll by The Undefeated and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 70% of Black Americans said they have faced racism within the health care system. Black children are also twice as likely to die from surgery than their non-Black counterparts, research has found. Another study from 2019 found that Black men are twice as likely to be killed by police than white men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black and Indigenous women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women in the U.S. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus has disproportionately affected communities of color more severely than white communities.  

“The AMA recognizes that racism negatively impacts and exacerbates health inequities among historically marginalized communities,” AMA Board Member Willarda V. Edwards said in a statement. “Declaring racism as an urgent public health threat is a step in the right direction toward advancing equity in medicine and public health, while creating pathways for truth, healing, and reconciliation.”

The resolution will require the AMA's governing body to focus efforts on eliminating racial injustice in the medical field. The association’s key goals include supporting governmental policies focused on ending systemic racism, encouraging funding for medical research into the “risks and damages” associated with racism, and developing medical education curricula that explores racism in the healthcare field and beyond. 

The policy stems from the organization’s June pledge to “confront systemic racism and police brutality” on the heels of nationwide protests for racial justice after George Floyd was killed by police. AMA also recognized that violent police interactions with Black and Brown communities are a “critical determinant of health” and called for research and funding into the consequences of those interactions. 

Local governments in states including Michigan, Nevada, Wisconsin, and California have since declared racism a public health threat.