(Editor’s Note: This Word from the President blog post is one in a series of 75th anniversary posts authored by past and current AAFP presidents and leaders whose voices and perspectives help connect the rich past and promising future of the organization and the specialty of family medicine. Special thanks to Sterling Ransone, M.D., for kicking off the milestone celebration with his June 10 post and for providing this platform to others to continue the celebration throughout 2022.)
Sept. 15, 2022
By Warren Jones, M.D.
Former AAFP president (2001-2002)
The AAFP has long sought to recognize the diverse voices of those who deliver care to our neediest patients. Some may think that recognizing the importance of those voices began with the focused efforts of the 1990s — particularly the convening of the first National Conference for Women, Minorities and New Physicians in 1990. I am a product of that leadership development process and the first to go on to become an AAFP president.
I should note, however, that although the inaugural NCWMNP represented a critical milestone in our Academy’s history, it was not the AAFP’s first major effort to ensure equity in access by diverse physicians. That came 25 years earlier.
The original plans for the Medicare program enacted in 1965 required that participating physicians hold hospital privileges that, for the most part, they failed to grant to Black physicians (a shortfall I highlighted in a March 10, 2021, Virtual Town Hall that followed an AAFP member-exclusive airing of the documentary Power to Heal: Medicare and the Civil Rights Revolution). There also was a planned requirement for membership in the AMA as a condition of Medicare participation.
Our AAFP — or, as it was known at that time, American Academy of General Practice — recognized that these requirements were patently unfair and would present a barrier to Black physicians’ ability to provide care for their patients and their communities under Medicare. The answer was to open the membership in state chapters to Black physicians, which the AAGP Congress of Delegates did in April 1965 by adopting Resolution No. 11, “To Extend Equal Rights for AAGP Membership.” This action, in turn, allowed these family physicians to be eligible for membership in the AMA and, subsequently, Medicare participation.
No, our Academy has not been perfect on all issues of health equity, but for as long as I’ve been a member, it has designed and implemented conscious efforts to improve diversity of involvement, leadership development and implementation of policies intended to promote health equity for our members and the communities they serve. The establishment of the Center for Diversity and Health Equity in 2017 and the formation earlier this year of the Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness in Family Medicine stand as testament to our continuing commitment to these goals.
But back to the AAFP’s leadership pathways.
NCWMNP gave way to the National Conference of Special Constituencies, which led to today’s National Conference of Constituency Leaders. Each of these efforts resulted in greater participation in Academy leadership by previously underrepresented physician groups, with more women, new physicians and minorities — along with members of our more recently designated international medical graduate and LGBTQ+ constituencies — serving with excellence as leaders of our commissions, committees, task forces, Congress of Delegates and Board of Directors.
The beauty of the Academy’s brilliantly focused and sustained approach is that participants who attended each of those leadership development pathway events went home to serve and lead their state chapters before progressing to the national level as AAFP directors, president-elect, president and Board chair.
In my comments after being elected president-elect in September 2000, I shared that if we looked in other than the usual places and at other than the usual faces, we will discover that we do have the solutions for the most challenging problems in health care today and in the future.
So, in my opinion, the best way to care for our patients and their communities is to turn to the well trained and talented AAFP members in our midst. Do that, and you will find that we offer compassionate state-of-the-art care for all in need. This is built on our lengthy history of commitment to physician leaders who not only talk the talk but walk the walk.
About the author:
Warren Jones, M.D., FAAFP, served as the AAFP’s first Black president in 2001-2002.