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Top JAMA editor steps down after colleague questioned whether racism exists in health care

Andrew Cuomo

The top editor of the prestigious medical journal JAMA has resigned following outcry over comments made by another editor, questioning whether systemic racism in medicine exists.

The American Medical Association, which oversees the journal, announced Tuesday that Dr. Howard Bauchner will step down from his role by the end of this month.

The move comes after months of backlash from numerous physicians and researchers in the medical community. The controversy began in February when an episode of the journal’s podcast about racism in the medical community was published.

“Structural racism is an unfortunate term,” Dr. Edward Livingston, another editor at JAMA, said in the podcast, according to the New York Times. “Personally, I think taking racism out of the conversation will help. Many people like myself are offended by the implication that we are somehow racist.”

Then, a tweet promoting the February 24 podcast episode titled “Structural Racism for Doctors—What Is It?” said “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?,” the newspaper reported.

The tweet was deleted shortly after. The podcast episode was taken down and has since then been replaced with a message from Bauchner apologizing for the harm caused by the comments made in the show and assuring that “racism and structural racism exist in the US and in health care.”

Livingston, who hosted the podcast, has since then resigned, according to the AMA.

Bauchner, who led the journal since 2011, had been on administrative leave since March while a review of the podcast and the tweet were in process, the AMA said.

“I remain profoundly disappointed in myself for the lapses that led to the publishing of the tweet and podcast. Although I did not write or even see the tweet, or create the podcast, as editor-in-chief, I am ultimately responsible for them,” Bauchner said in a statement released Tuesday.

The AMA has said that Dr. Phil Fontanarosa, the journal’s executive editor, will be named interim editor-in-chief until a new editor is appointed by a search committee.

It’s unclear whether an investigation into how the podcast and the tweet were “developed, reviewed, and ultimately posted” has been completed.

Since the podcast was published, doctors and researchers have condemned the comments and tweet promoting the podcast.

As of Wednesday, more than 9,000 people have signed an online petition calling on JAMA to hire an editor to focus on antiracism and health equity and hold a series of town hall conversations with patients, health care staff and allies of color.

“The delivery of messages suggesting that racism is non-existent and therefore non-problematic within the medical field is harmful to both our underrepresented minoritized physicians and the marginalized communities served in this country,” the petition states.

The petition was circulated by the Institute for Antiracism in Medicine, a Chicago advocacy group founded by three Black physicians last year.

It’s not the first time that the AMA has confronted practices perpetuating racism and discrimination.

In 2008, the association officially apologized for excluding Black physicians from its ranks for more than a century — a practice that ended in the late 1960s.

The AMA hired its first chief health equity officer in 2019 to advance its “mission by reducing disparities and increasing health equity to improve health of all populations.”

Last year, its board of trustees pledged action to confront systemic racism and the group passed a policy recognizing racism “serious threat to public health, to the advancement of health equity, and a barrier to appropriate medical care.”

Article Topic Follows: US & World

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