AMA’s New Gay President

CBS NEWS, Washington — Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld — an anesthesiologist, Navy veteran and father — made history this week when he was inaugurated as the new president of the American Medical Association, becoming the first openly gay leader of the nation’s largest group of physicians and medical students.

“So after three years of experiencing so much stress, with COVID, you know, we’ve had a ‘twindemic:’ a pandemic of the disease, plus a pandemic of misinformation, and bad information,” Ehrenfeld told CBS News of some of the top issues facing physicians today.

Facing doctor burnout, soaring medical costs and an influx of legislation targeting the LGBTQ community, Ehrenfeld is taking over at a difficult time.

“We have a health care system in crisis, I hear that from my physician colleagues,” Ehrenfeld said.

“Today, there are so many backseat drivers telling us what to do…You know, we’ve got regulators that are discarding science and telling physicians how to practice medicine, putting barriers in care,” he explains … READ MORE. 

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CHICAGO (AP) — The first openly gay person to lead the American Medical Association takes the reins at a fractious time for U.S. health care.

"Dr. Ehrenfeld and his husband, Judd Taback, have two children." – AMA website | Screenshot, CBS News
“Dr. Ehrenfeld and his husband, Judd Taback, have two children.” – AMA website | Screenshot, CBS News

Transgender patients and those seeking abortion care face restrictions in many places. The medical judgment of physicians is being overridden by state laws. Disinformation is rampant. And the nation isn’t finished with COVID-19.

In the two decades since Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld first got involved with the AMA as young medical resident, the nation’s largest physicians’ group has tried to shed its image as a conservative self-interested trade association. While physician pocketbook issues remain a big focus, the AMA is also a powerful lobbying force for a range of public health issues.

Two years ago, the AMA won widespread praise for announcing a plan to dismantle structural racism within its ranks and the U.S. medical establishment. It has adopted policies that stress health equity and inclusiveness — moves that inspired critics to accuse it of “wokeness.”

At 44, Ehrenfeld will be among the AMA’s youngest presidents when he begins his one-year term on June 13. An anesthesiologist, Navy combat veteran and father of two young children, he spoke recently to The Associated Press about his background and new job.

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The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld and their partner, Judd Taback

Q. Why is your being part of the LGBTQ community a big deal at this moment and how will it inform your role as AMA president?

A: I didn’t run as a gay man. That’s not my platform, but it’s a part of my identity. And people know that.

Representation and visibility is so important. I can’t tell you the number of emails, letters, phone calls, text messages that I got when I was elected into this role from people around the world that saw this as an important moment, an important recognition of what inclusivity and equality can be to help advance health equity for everyone.

Q: How will your experience as part of the LGBTQ community inform and influence your new role?

A: I’ve experienced the health care system as a gay person, as a gay parent, as in many ways wonderful positive experiences and other ways, some deeply harmful experiences. And I know that we can do better as a nation. We can do better as a system that can lift up health. And I expect that there’ll be opportunities to shine a light on that during my year as president.

Q: What are examples of those experiences?

A: There’s so many times where our health care system just does not accommodate people who aren’t in the majority. As a gay parent and a gay dad, I can’t tell you how many forms I filled out where there’s a place for the mom and a place for the dad. It’s a small thing. But it’s a signal that we’re different and maybe we’re not welcome or accepted.

When you have those small, subtle irritations that add up day after day after day, whether you’re an LGBT person or from a minority group, that causes stress. These friction points … are so pronounced for so many who are in underserved communities, so many in the LGBT community, and particularly for transgender individuals. And I know we can do better.

I’ve been fortunate to have two beautiful boys brought into this world with the support of an incredible group of physicians. But there were definitely lots of moments along the way where it was clear that we were a little bit different than everybody else in a way that didn’t need to be.

Q: This seems like an unprecedented time for political interference in medicine.

A: I’m deeply concerned about government intrusion into decision-making for patients. The Supreme Court ruling around abortion has had profound implications for reproductive rights. And fundamentally, patients have a right to access evidence-based health care services. That includes comprehensive reproductive health care. It includes care for transgender people.

States that ban abortion, that ban health care for transgender youth are placing the government right into the patient-physician relationship. And we know that this leads to devastating health consequences and can jeopardize lives. The AMA continues to speak out against these kinds of actions.


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