AMA President, Dr. Patrice Harris

American Medical Association President Dr. Patrice Harris addressed the media during her visit to Concord University last Thursday.

ATHENS — A rare opportunity for Concord University students to meet with a native Mercer Countian who is now the president of one of the most prestigious professional organizations in the world occurred Thursday as Bluefield native and American Medical Association President Dr. Patrice Harris addressed a gathering at the Alexander Fine Arts Center.

In a pre-speech press conference, Harris said, “Dream big and think big. Ask a lot of questions and ask to be exposed to those outside your social circle. ,because it’s always important to learn new things.”

Younger students, she added, had opportunities which she didn’t have growing up in the 1970s because of the exposure they have to social media. Even with its drawbacks, she said, social media has expanded the ways students can see the world.

“Dream big and dream beyond what’s in front of you,” she said.

Harris added, “One thing I want to do is emphasize the importance of leading with authenticity. The need to stay true to yourself has helped me throughout my career. Speak truth to power. Be inquisitive and well-informed. As much as I’ve read, I wished I had read more.”

There is a responsibility of older people to make sure equity of opportunity is available for younger people. and let them know of those opportunities..

‘“That’s why I’m glad to have this chance to talk to the students. As the first women of color in my position, I feel that it’s important for those of color and in other underserved segments to see what has been done. I believe that if you can see it, you can believe it..’ she said.

After the press conference, Harris was introduced by CU President Dr. Kendra Boggess, where she addressed an audience of approximately 200 people in the auditorium of the Fine Arts Center.

“At the end of the day, no matter what career path you choose , it’s important that you lead with authenticity,” she said..

She recommended that students do different things in their careers, citing her office medical practice, consulting, and a lobbyist at the Georgia State Assembly.

Dr. Harris drew laughs when she said her inspiration for going into medicine was the television show “Marcus Welby, M.D.”

“The thing which inspired me the most was that Dr. Welby not only cared for patients in his clinic, he cared for them outside of his clinic. I saw that physicians were respected in the community and that they had a platform,” she said.

As AMA President, she said, she has a platform to affect not only individual health but community health for the entire country.

“As you heard, I’ve chaired the AMA’s Opioid Task Force since its inception. That is not only professional to me , that’s personal to me. Living in Atlanta since 1992, I am very aware of what this epidemic has done to our wonderful state.,” she said.

Becoming the AMA’s 174th President, she said, was “such a privilege and a responsibility.”

The AMA’s House of Delegates, she said, is comprised of representatives of every sector of medicine from every state and makes policy for the entire organization. It meets twice a year to debate policy.

“The AMA is a longtime advocate of public health in this country, from putting seatbelts in cars to working to end smoking to working towards non-discriminatory treatment of those with HIV/AIDS,” she said.

The AMA, she added, was advocating that everybody had meaningful and inexpensive health care, including supporting the Affordable Care Act, even with its flaws.. People without adequate health insurance, according to studies, stay sicker and die earlier.

“Everybody in this room knows that there are many .many issues with health care. We still have millions who still have inadequate health coverage. We know that there’s a high cost of care even for those who have health insurance. We know that we need to ensure workplace diversity. The opioid epidemic is still on-going. The vaping issue is in the news. There’s a myriad of challenges for all of us, physicians and others to face” she said.

There are three large “buckets” that the AMA is working on ,she said. The first is addressing the regulatory burden facing health care providers. The second is battling chronic disease. The third is spurring innovation in medical education and health care in general.

“Another core principle is equity in health care. If you read the AMA Code of Ethics, you see that we are committed to non-discriminatory health care To that end, we have hired our first-ever Chief Health Equity Officer. We are not going to allow “equity” to be the buzzword of the day,” she said.

She added that hard questions must be asked about health statics.Once asked, then the community can work on solutions.

After further comments, Dr. Harris took several questions from the audience

Dr. Harris has diverse experience as a private practicing physician, public health administrator, patient advocate and medical society lobbyist. She currently spearheads the AMA’s efforts to end the opioid epidemic and has been chair of the AMA Opioid Task Force since its inception in 2014. She became AMA President in June.

Growing up in Bluefield, W.Va. and attending Bluefield High School where she was the salutatorian of the BHS Class of 1978 , Dr. Harris dreamt of entering medicine at a time when few women of color were encouraged to become physicians. She spent her formative years at West Virginia University, earning a BA in psychology, an MA in counseling psychology and ultimately, a medical degree in 1992. It was during this time that her passion for helping children emerged, and she completed her psychiatry residency and fellowships in child and adolescent psychiatry and forensic psychiatry at the Emory University School of Medicine.

Prior to her visit to CU, Harris was honored by BHS with induction into the BHS Hall of Fame. After her speech, she addressed the Community Foundation of the Virginias, Inc., Annual Dinner.

Contact Jeff Harvey at

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