The American Medical Association (AMA) has had 173 presidents and not one of them has been a black woman — until now.
West Virginia University graduate Dr. Patrice Harris was recently elected as the 174th president of the AMA, making her the first black woman to hold the post. Dr. Harris will officially take her seat as president in June 2019.
Not only has Dr. Harris made history in the esteemed association, she has made history within her own family.
“No one in my family had gone to medical school, and I had no family friends that did,” Dr. Harris told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “It is not an easy thing to do if you don’t know or don’t have guidance as what to major in.”
So, what gave Dr. Harris the push to pursue the medical field?
Television! Family physician Marcus Welby, from the television show Marcus Welby, M.D. sparked her interest, once again proving representation matters.
“I was inspired because Marcus Welby not only took an interest in his patients’ lives inside the exam room, but he also cared about their lives outside the exam room,” she said. “I recall some episodes where he was involved in community-wide issues and that inspired me."
Harris always had a love for children, and wanted to channel that into her career.
“It was my plan to be a pediatrician, and that was my plan up until my third year of medical school,” Harris said. “The brain was just fascinating to me, and when I went to my third-year psychiatry clerkship I felt at home, and I then decided that I could merge my love for working with children and adolescents with psychiatry.”
Harris graduated from WVU's medical school in 1992 and went on to serve on the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Board. The APA later named her a delegate to the AMA. In June 2011, she was elected to the AMA board of trustees, and currently leads as chair of the association's opioid task force.
Of course, Harris faced some challenges in her journey to becoming the woman she is today.
“At some points in my journey, there wasn’t as much encouragement, and in fact, some discouragement,” noted Harris. “I recall early on I had been advised to perhaps go into nursing and not medicine. Nursing is a very noble career and noble profession, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do ... it could have been related to the fact that I was a woman, the fact that I was a person of color. I don’t know.”
In her new position, Harris ultimately wants to pay it forward to the next generation of physicians.
“[The] AMA has, and will continue to be, a partner in innovating how we educate the next generation of physicians,” said Harris.
We know she'll especially be a great role model for black women physicians! Congrats, Dr. Harris!
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