DAILY / MAY 19, 2019  
Psychiatric News Update

Incoming AMA President and Former APA Board Member Lays Out Plans for Presidential Year

Patrice Harris
The voice of APA for psychiatry has been “instrumental and monumental” within the House of Medicine, said psychiatrist Patrice Harris, M.D., president-elect of the AMA, in comments at the APA Board of Trustees meeting on Sunday afternoon.

In June, Harris will become the first African American woman president of the AMA when the AMA House of Delegates meets for its annual policymaking conference in Chicago. She will succeed AMA President Barbara McAneny, M.D.

“I am just a vessel,” Harris told trustees, “and I want you all to know I am very grateful—not for myself but for the profession of psychiatry and the role you have played in the House of Medicine.”

Harris was elected at last year’s AMA meeting. During her campaign, she was endorsed by—in addition to the Section Council on Psychiatry—the Medical Association of Georgia, the Southeastern Delegation to the AMA, the Neuroscience Caucus, the Section Council on Preventive Medicine, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the Specialty and Service Society Caucus, and the Young Physicians Section.

Harris told trustees that she was quite anxious in the run-up to her contested election when she last spoke to them in May 2018. “I was about three weeks away from the election,” she said. “It took all of us on the delegation working really hard, but I was anxious and happy for any sign that would reduce my anxiety.”

Harris recalled that then-incoming APA President Altha Stewart gave her a bottle of nail polish. “The color was ‘Madam President,’” she said.

Harris has a long history of involvement with organized medicine. A past APA trustee, Harris served on the AMA Board of Trustees beginning in 2011 and served as secretary for the 2014-2015 term and as chair of the board for the 2016-2017 term. As a practicing psychiatrist trained in child/adolescent and forensic psychiatry, she consults with both public and private organizations on health service delivery. She has also been chair of the AMA Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse and is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University.

As chair of the AMA Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse, Harris helped steer AMA policy on an issue of national importance, strongly emphasizing the need to reduce opioid prescribing by physicians while also advocating for treatment for substance use disorders and pain management and the use of prescription drug monitoring programs.

She previously served as the director of health services in Fulton County, Ga., and the head of the Fulton County Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. As chief health officer for Fulton County, she spearheaded efforts to integrate public health, behavioral health, and primary care. She is a past president of the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association.

Harris told trustees she would focus her presidential year on three priorities: integration of mental health and general medical care, health equity and workforce diversity, and childhood trauma.

Integration would be a consistent theme throughout. “I plan to make sure I repeat it often,” she said. “Regarding health equity, we need to make sure we have a diverse workforce; and I want to encourage diversity across organized medicine, health care systems, and academic medical centers.” In this regard Harris said she hopes to be an inspiration to others across the health care landscape.

“Childhood trauma—we don’t talk enough about that in our work, but I see it every day,” Harris said.

“Those are the issues I want to elevate during my presidential year,” she said. Addressing the former APA presidents present at the Board meeting—among them Lawrence Hartmann, M.D., Carol Nadelson, M.D., Carol Robinowitz, M.D., John Oldham, M.D., and Steven Sharfstein, M.D.—she added, “All the presidents here know your year goes by quickly, and you have to take advantage of it, and I look forward to working with all of you. Thank you for all your years of support.”

(Image: David Hathcox)


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