“Change Is Upon Us, Our Foundation is Solid”

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Wilson_edited-1(20.06.13)  “Tonight I stand before you as so many things. A woman. A Kentuckian. A lover of the finer things in life…basketball, Churchill Downs, and a good mint julep.  Most importantly, I stand before you as a physician. Specifically, an infectious disease specialist."

130620 ama From left - Cecil Wilson, MD (President WMA), Ardis Hoven, MD (President American Medical Association), Otmar Kloiber, MD (Secretary General WMA)

With those words Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, a minister’s daughter, spoke to the leaders of organized medicine and to the country on her installation as the 168th President of the American Medical Association (AMA) in Chicago, June 18. 

In an inspiring speech that was eloquently storied with events in her life that brought her to leadership in the AMA, Dr. Hoven described her early practice in infectious disease treating an array of diseases such as tuberculosis, infective endocarditis and legionella.  She went on to tell how in the 1970s she began “… seeing a new kind of patient. Mostly young men, many of them very talented, afflicted with a horrific disease that killed them within months – sometimes even weeks – AIDS”. 

 Dr. Hoven reminded her audience that this was a time when AIDS began to spread and fear gripped the nation. Laws were proposed, some passed, that would make life significantly harder for her AIDS patients. It was then that she realized she needed to do something about such legislation to protect her patients, and that the most effective way was to become involved in her medical society and use the clout of organized medicine to protect her patients. 

In her words: “In that moment, I recognized the power of organized medicine. For the first time, I saw how an issue I faced in my exam room could be taken to a higher level. And if resolved at that higher level, the benefits would reach not only my own patients, but also every patient in the state of Kentucky. To put it simply, in that moment I realized that the collective voice – the voice of America’s physicians – had the power to make a difference.” 

Dr. Hoven went on to recognize the challenges and fears physicians now have of losing their autonomy – fear that “…crucial health care decisions will be dictated by government, or administrators, or health insurance companies.” 

She said: “I will not stand here today and tell you that change is not upon us. I will not deny that the ground is shifting beneath our feet. But I will tell you this: our foundation is solid.  Because this platform of ours – organized medicine (the AMA) – is as solid as they come. It has survived some 166 years. 

A Civil War…two World Wars…the Cold War…and 34 presidencies. This platform yielded the first code of medical ethics, the first standards for medical education and the most widely circulated medical journal in the world.

This platform has helped physicians address challenges throughout the decades… Whether it was fighting quackery at the turn of the century… or promoting the adoption of modern surgical technique… or battling the disease that has defined my career: HIV/AIDS. 

This platform is powerful. It was powerful 100 years ago. It was powerful 50 years ago. And it is powerful today.  So yes, right now we are living through historic change. And some may lament that fact.  But I say, we are lucky. Because the great thing about living through history, is we don’t have to just witness it. We can shape it. 

Together we can combat the epidemic of chronic conditions plaguing the nation. Together we can foster innovation in medical education, so future physicians are better prepared for the realities of 21st century health care. 

Together we can improve health care technology, so we don’t have to spend two hours at the end of the day typing data into an EMR. Together we can achieve meaningful medical liability reform. Together we can eliminate the Independent Payment Advisory Board.  And together we can put the so-called “sustainable” growth rate formula to bed once and for all! 

By standing together, united in vision and commitment, physicians can shape the health care system this country needs. 

My fellow physicians, change can be scary. But we must never forget: change can also be good.  Today we stand at a crossroads in the history of health care in this great nation. Behind us lies a century of failed attempts to improve the system. Ahead of us lie two distinct paths. 

One is the path of inaction. Of glorifying the past, succumbing to partisan politics, and thwarting any attempt to move forward. The other is the path of action. Of collaborating, innovating, and leading the drive toward productive change. 

Colleagues, I think you know which path we belong on. And I look forward to walking it with you in the year ahead. Let’s do right by our patients.  Let’s leverage the power of organized medicine.  And let’s never forget… The future of American health care . . . is in our hands. Thank you.” 

To Dr. Hoven I say, thank you Ardis for this message and we look forward to walking that path of action with you in the year ahead. 

The video and transcript of Dr. Hoven’s speech can be found at: 


WMA President Cecil. B. Wilson, MD travels around the world talking about the WMA's work representing the millions of physicians worldwide. Acting on behalf of patients and physicians, the WMA endeavors to achieve the highest possible standards of medical care, ethics, education and health related human rights for all people. This blog will chronicle these travels and important issues.