Founded by a group of seven visionary African-American physicians in 1895, the National Medical Association (NMA) has been in existence for more than 100 years. Under the backdrop of racial segregation at that time, membership in the American Medical Association (AMA) was restricted to whites. AMA was influential in determining national medical policy, and when black doctors sought membership in AMA, they were repeatedly denied admission. The initial aim of NMA was to give a voice to many disenfranchised physicians of African descent who were excluded from joining local medical societies of AMA.
Health disparities in medicine perpetuated poor health outcomes for blacks and other minorities, and many continue to this day. Blacks were frequently excluded from many hospitals, and if admitted, their care and the ward conditions were substandard. In many cases, white nurses were prohibited from caring for black patients. Reportedly, by 1912, only 19 of New York City’s 29 hospitals admitted black patients, and only three gave black physicians patient hospital privileges or the right to perform surgery. The first NMA meeting agenda priorities were to eliminate health disparities, gain professional acceptance and to improve medical care for all people.
NMA has grown tremendously in the past century with nearly 100 affiliate societies throughout the country and more than 35,000 members. NMA serves as a collective voice for physicians and patients of African descent in promoting optimal health. NMA seeks to 1) prevent disease, disability and adverse conditions that disproportionately impact persons of African descent and under-served populations; 2) support efforts that improve the quality and availability of health care to under-served populations; and 3) increase the representation, preservation and contributions of persons of African descent in medicine. NMA has been an influential voice for national health care policy change (i.e., Medicare and Medicaid) and has introduced a number of innovative health care initiatives over the years.
NMA is in the forefront of evolving issues that affect medicine, including burgeoning health care costs, eroding physician autonomy and the dilemma of treating uninsured patients in need of immediate health care. In the 21st century, the NMA focus is targeting the increasingly diverse communities that require health care services. NMA is reaching out to culturally diverse medical organizations to develop a health care agenda that will meet the medical needs of a diverse American population.
Prominent NMA members include Daniel Hale Williams, M.D., who performed the first open heart surgery; Charles Drew, M.D., who pioneered the techniques of separating blood from plasma and laid the groundwork for modern blood banking; and Benjamin Carson, M.D., who is a prominent neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University.
Throughout the year, NMA presents continuing medical education (CME) programs in six regions of the country. NMA’s Annual National Convention and Scientific Assembly, drawing physicians from around the world, highlights important scientific and medical advances for 25 sub-specialty sections, including aerospace and military medicine, allergy immunology and asthma, anesthesiology, basic science, community medicine and public health, dermatology, emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, medical administration, neurology-neurosurgery, obstetrics and gynecology, ophthalmology, orthopedics, otolaryngology, pathology, pediatrics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, plastic and reconstructive surgery, postgraduate physicians, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, radiology, surgery, urology and women’s health.
The national Scientific Assembly is recognized as a leading forum on African-American health issues. The organization publishes a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal established in 1909, the Journal of the National Medical Association.