As the field became more exclusive, it also became more white, according to Adam Biggs, a historian at the University of South Carolina. “When we talk about how modern medicine came to define what it means to be a modern practitioner, it was deeply rooted in race,” Mr. Biggs said. “Segregation was embedded in the pipeline.”
Between its restrictions on medical education and its exclusionary membership, the A.M.A. played a role in cultivating the profession’s homogeneity, which it acknowledged in its 2008 statement. It has since appointed a chief health equity officer and established a center for health equity. Dr. Goza said that the A.M.A.’s example helped spur the American Academy of Pediatrics to confront its own history.
There have been some historical examples of efforts to confront racism in the medical field. In 1997, President Clinton apologized for the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study conducted between 1932 and 1972, a quarter-century after it was first exposed by The Associated Press. In the early 21st century, a number of state attorneys general apologized for the forced sterilization of Black, mentally ill and disabled people, which began in the early 1900s.
After the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, in late May, a flood of medical groups released statements on racial health disparities: the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, the American College of Cardiology, the American College of Gastroenterology, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Psychiatric Association and more. The American Public Health Association released a statement recognizing racism as a “public health crisis.” But few have confronted their own histories of racial discrimination as the A.M.A. and A.A.P. have done. The leadership of these groups, like the field itself, is predominantly white.
But some of their future members and leaders are now demanding change on medical school campuses.
Dr. Tequilla Manning, a family physician in New York, graduated from University of Kansas Medical Center three years ago. As a medical student, she conducted a research project on Dr. Marjorie Cates, the school’s first Black female graduate. She began to draw parallels between Dr. Cates’ experience of discrimination on campus and her own.
Before graduating in 2017, she gave a presentation on Dr. Cates’ story. Some of the other students in the audience were inspired. They lobbied University of Kansas to rename a campus medical society for Dr. Cates; the group previously honored a dean of the school who had advocated for racially segregated clinical facilities.
Last year Dr. Manning attended the renaming ceremony for the Cates Society. “I was crying,” she said. “What I experienced is not on the spectrum of what my ancestors experienced at the hands of white physicians. But I spent five years at this institution thinking there was no hope.”