Dr. Patrice Harris

Dr. Patrice Harris

Dr. Patrice Harris Sworn in as First Black Female President of the American Medical Association

Dr. Patrice Harris
Dr. Patrice Harris

Dr. Patrice Harris shattered a glass ceiling on June 11, 2019, when she was officially sworn in as the 174th president of the American Medical Association, making her the first black woman to lead the organization.

In a sense, she follows in the footsteps of Dr. Edith Irby Jones, who in 1985 was elected the first female president of the black physicians’ organization, the National Medical Association (founded 1895). But the AMA, whose membership is overwhelmingly white, has never had a black female president.

During her inauguration speech, Dr. Harris reflected on the shoulders she stood on to reach the highest position within the AMA.

“It’s truly a dream come true to stand before you tonight,” she said. “A dream my ancestors, parents, my extended family, and my friends supported before it even entered my imagination. A dream my West Virginia, Georgia, psychiatry, and AMA families helped me achieve. And I know in my heart that, tonight, I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

A native of West Virginia, Dr. Harris blazed trails and acquired invaluable experience beyond her “white-coat” years before her presidency. In 2016, she became the first African American woman to lead AMA’s Board of Trustees. She also served on the board of the Medical Association of Georgia’s Council on Legislation, its Committee on Constitution and Bylaws, and its Membership Task Force. She was also president of the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association and founding president of the Georgia Psychiatry Political Action Committee.

As a black woman, she is keenly aware of, and equipped to address, challenges within the medical field that uniquely affect marginalized communities.

“We are no longer at a place where we can tolerate the disparities that plague communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. But we are not yet at a place where health equity is achieved in those communities,” Dr. Harris said in a statement. “We are no longer at a place where underrepresented groups are not welcome in medicine, but we are not yet at a place where underrepresented groups are entering or graduating from medical schools at the rates of their peers.”

When she isn’t seeing patients at her private practice, attending a board meeting or working to improve policies and laws, Dr. Harris is empowering the next generation of doctors in the classroom. According to a statement released by the AMA, she is also “an adjunct assistant professor in the Emory Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and an adjunct clinical assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Morehouse School of Medicine.”

A member of Alpha Kappa Alpha and a true representation of Black Girl Magic, she obtained her medical degree from West Virginia University School of Medicine and completed a psychiatry residency and child psychiatry fellowship at Emory University School of Medicine.

She plans to continue her private practice in Atlanta as well as her role as chair of the AMA Opioid Task Force.

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