The American Medical Association Just Elected Its First African American Woman President

MD Patrice A. Harris made history this month when she became the first African American woman voted president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association (AMA). The psychiatrist from Atlanta, who was elected by the House of Delegates during the annual AMA meeting on June 12, will begin her presidency next summer.

Harris has previously held two executive AMA offices, board chair and board secretary, and has served on the health information technology, payment and delivery reform and private contracting committee task forces and chaired the AMA Council on Legislation and co-chaired the Women Physicians Congress. She will remain the chairperson of the AMA Opioid Task Force even after taking on the presidency. She is also currently maintaining her private practice and negotiating with both public and private organizations on health service delivery as well as contemporary trends in practice and health policy and is an adjunct professor in the Emory Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Outside of the AMA, Harris has served on the American Psychiatric Association Board of Trustees and as president of the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association and founding president of the Georgia Psychiatry Political Action Committee. In 2007, she was named the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association Psychiatrist of the Year.

In a statement, Harris praised the AMA for its policies associated with the fluctuating medical climate in the U.S. “It will be my honor to represent the nation’s physicians at the forefront of discussions when policymaker and lawmakers search for practical solutions to the challenges in our nation’s health system. I am committed to preserving the central role of the physician-patient relationship in our healing art,” she said. “The American Medical Association has well-crafted policy concerning the changing health care environment in this country and I look forward to using my voice to help improve health care for patients and their physicians.”

The AMA Women Physicians Section (WPS) represents more than 82,000 women physicians and medical students, advocates for women’s health and professional concerns, celebrates the achievements of women in medicine and works to increase the number and influence of women physicians in leadership roles.

Despite Harris’ historic appointment, the work of AMA’s WPS is as necessary as ever. In 1849, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive a U.S. medical degree from Geneva medical college in New York. Nearly 200 years later, there are more than 42,000 women enrolled in U.S. medical schools, and over the past 10 years, the number of female physicians, including residents, has grown by more than 43 percent—but fewer than 10 percent of women who self-identify as holding leadership positions in the field have reported being a department chair, CEO or CMO, and the proportion of women in higher academic ranks continues to be lower than their male counterparts.


Emma Encinas is a former editorial intern at Ms.