American Medical Association’s first black female president speaks to Fort Worth group

The American Medical Association’s newest president, Dr. Patrice A. Harris, gave the keynote speech Saturday at the 39th annual Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

In the AMA’s 174-year history, Harris is the first African American woman to be elected its president. She was officially inaugurated June 11 and will serve her term for one year.

“I know that young girls and boys from communities of color will look to me as an inspiration,” she said. “I hope they do. I hope to be a role model worthy of their aspirations and their inspirations.”

Harris has had an extensive career in medicine. She was previously president of the American Psychiatric Association and was a delegate to the AMA. She has held numerous other positions dealing with public health and was the founding president of the Georgia Psychiatry Political Action Committee.

And since 1998, she’d had her own private practice in Atlanta where she practices child psychiatry.

She sees her work in the advocacy arena as just important as her work in the doctor’s office. For awhile, Harris was a lobbyist because she believed it took more than just taking care of patients to truly create change.

“Decisions made in legislatures across this country, at the federal level and at the regulator’s offices, affect my ability to take care of patients,” Harris said.

As president, Harris has three things she wants to amplify: the importance of mental health, childhood trauma and health equity. She said the AMA has renewed efforts in place to encourage health equity and that it is beginning to “move the needle” on the issue.

According to a study by the UT Southwestern Medical Center, Fort Worth’s 76104 ZIP code has the lowest life expectancy in Texas. This area is located in southeast Fort Worth, and though it includes the medical district, hospitals are not accounted for. 76104 is predominantly a black area, according to the U.S. census.

“When we look at health, we unfortunately know all too well that ZIP codes fewer than 20 miles apart can have such different health outcomes,” Harris said.

She wants to encourage people to realize that there are other determinants of our health, beyond the ability to go see a doctor.

“It’s about transportation,” she said. “It’s about employment. Education attainment. All of those issues go into our health outcomes. So when we look at zip codes, we know we have a long way to go.”

A board member of the FWMBCC, Walter Dansby, thinks it is important that Harris and the AMA are focusing on issues such as health equity. He added that he thought it was a great time for her to come speak to members of the city in the business and medical fields.

“I thought it was timely for us, especially when you look at the health needs in our area, in some of our ZIP codes in the city of Fort Worth.” Dansby said.

Harris will also make history by being the second of three successive female presidents. Dr. Barbara McAneny is the previous president, and Dr. Susan Bailey is the president-elect.

“I am so inspired by so many people, and this just widened the breadth of that,” Heather DeVille, a 32-year-old medical student, said. “To see so many women in this position ... it’s so inspiring, and it makes it reachable.”

DeVille attended the luncheon with a group of students from the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Another student, 23-year-old Sabri Zooper, said she feels inspired by Dr. Harris and called her “the Michelle Obama of medicine.”

“My success stems from vision,” Zooper said. “If I can see somebody else do it, or envision myself do it, then I can do it. To see a female African American do that, I can see myself.”

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