A standout guest at this year’s AMA National Conference was the highly impressive Dr Barbara McAneny, President of the American Medical Association (the “other” AMA).
A leading and high-profile oncologist from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Dr McAneny delivered an inspiring keynote address at the Leadership Development Dinner on the first night of the conference in Brisbane.
Her topic was leadership, but she also detailed the legal fights the American association is having against the introduction in some US States of draconian and punitive anti-abortion laws. She told of similar fights to try and stop the unravelling of many elements of former US President Barack Obama’s universal healthcare laws.
Dr McAneny spoke with Australian Medicine.
“I think leadership stems from having taken the time and effort to step back and look at the big picture issues that affect day-to-day life, and then being able to communicate that vision of how things could be, as opposed to how things are, to other people,” she said.
“So that you can then convince them that the goal you see, the vision that you have, is worth working towards.
“I have no idea how it is in Australia, but in the United States in general we are not doing as well as we should be on equity in the medical workforce. In the lower levels of medical schools now we finally have about 50 per cent women.
“We do not have good representation of other minorities; we do not have good representation of the LBGTQ community. For us it is also Native Americans where we lack representation. We have a scarcity particularly of black men applying for medical school, but also of black women, of Asians, Hispanics.
“The United States is a melting pot, but we do not have a medical workforce that really reflects that diversity. We would have a stronger, better system if we did.
“I think we would have more wins if we did, because when you have a physician who relates to and is deeply embedded in the community they serve, they are going to see the issue of equity.
“They’re going to see the needs of various people. They’re going to see someone not as a concept, but as a human being who is trying to decide what to do about the tough decisions of life.
“They will see a woman who is deciding ‘can I carry a pregnancy to term? Is this the right time for me? Can I do this well?’, as opposed to just a statistic. Those are heart wrenching decisions for every woman and those decisions need to be made between the woman, any advisers she so chooses – from her family to God – and her physician.
“We think that it is our ethical duty to provide patients with full and complete information as to what their options are, to the best of our ability. That’s what physicians are as trusted advisers – to interpret healthcare literature and help a person make their own decision that fits them best. That’s medically reasonable, that’s our job, and any policies that punish physicians for doing that, are bad policies. Anything that criminalises healthcare provision is bad policy.
“I’m fascinated to see the similarities in the processes of our two countries. You are in the process more of developing your private health insurance. I hope that you can avoid some of the errors the United States has made in having private health companies become so very profitable.
“I hope that you can maintain the focus that you have on general practice – which we would call primary care. That seems to be, from what I’ve heard, at the heart of that physician-patient relationship, that trusted adviser, coach, teacher role that we don’t want to lose.
“So I would hope that Australia could learn perhaps from some of the lessons of what the United States has done badly and see if you can’t do it right. And then maybe we can turn around and learn from you.”