In June, Dr. Patrice A. Harris, a psychiatrist from Atlanta, was sworn-in as the 174th president of the American Medical Association (AMA). She is the first African-American woman to hold the position.
During her inauguration ceremony in Chicago, Dr. Harris said she plans to implement effective strategies to improve healthcare education and training, combat the crisis surrounding chronic diseases, and eliminate barriers to quality patient care. She also promised to lead conversations on mental health and diversity in the medical field.
“We face big challenges in health care today, and the decisions we make now will move us forward in a future we help create,” Harris said in a statement. “We are no longer at a place where we can tolerate the disparities that plague communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. But we are not yet at a place where health equity is achieved in those communities.”
According to her biography on the AMA’s website, Harris has long been a mentor, role model, and an advocate. She served on the AMA Board of Trustees since 2011, and as chair from 2016 to 2017.
Prior to that, Harris served in various leadership roles which included task forces on topics like health information technology, payment and delivery reform, and private contracting.
Harris also held leadership positions with the American Psychiatric Association, the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association, the Medical Association of Georgia, and The Big Cities Health Coalition, where she chaired this forum composed of leaders from America’s largest metropolitan health departments.
Growing up in Bluefield, West Virginia, Harris said she dreamed 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, according to her bio.
“The saying ‘if you can see it, you can believe it’ is true,” Harris said during her swearing-in ceremony. “And I hope to be tangible evidence for young girls and young boys and girls from communities of color that you can aspire to be a physician. Not only that, you can aspire to be a leader in organized medicine.”