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Dr. Gerald E. Harmon, past president of the AMA, gives guest speech at SOMG

“You can have an impact beyond one stethoscope at a time,” Dr. Gerald E. Harmon, immediate past president of the American Medical Association (AMA) told University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville faculty and medical students. 

Harmon gave a guest lecture at the School of Medicine Greenville on the power of organized medicine and led a discussion with medical students and faculty. The Nov. 30 guest speech included an overview of the AMA — with its mission as the “physicians’ powerful ally in patient care” — and how the inclusive organization represents all demographic groups of physicians from many different faucets of medicine. Dr. Harmon also discussed key issues the medical institution has recently focused on, from fighting COVID-19 and a pandemic of misinformation to driving the future of medicine and partnerships to prevent diabetes.

USC School of Medicine Greenville (SOMG) welcomed Harmon as a guest speaker of the SOMG chapter of the AMA.

Harmon told SOMG medical students and faculty in attendance that as a young astrophysics major in college, becoming a doctor was not his initial chosen path. However, he could not find a job. “My wife, who was in nursing school, said, ‘why don’t you become a doctor.’ I said ‘I don’t want to go do that. That sounds like a lot of work.’ ‘Well you want a job. Go look (at medical school).’”

The U.S. Air Force had a need for physicians and subsequently offered a scholarship to Harmon to attend medical school, and the rest became history. Harmon came to love being a doctor — and fulfilled a distinguished career in medicine in the Air Force Reserve, on Active Duty, and in the Air National Guard, and as a family medicine doctor in Georgetown, South Carolina. He first became involved with the American Medical Association after being persuaded by a mentor that he could make an impact and represent young physicians.

Harmon has been a member of the AMA’s Board of Trustees since 2013 and served as Board chair from 2017 - 2018. His service in his home state of South Carolina includes being Board chair and president of the South Carolina Medical Association. Harmon ended his decorated, 35-year career in the U.S. Air Force with the rank of major general, serving the nation in the Air Force Reserve, on Active Duty, and in the Air National Guard, holding responsibilities as chief physician for the National Guard Bureau.

Dr. Harmon spoke about how being a physician remains one of only a handful of widely respected occupations. “You have to lead by example,” he said. It can be a sobering thought, he added, to realize how patients trust doctors with everything that is precious to them — their lives, their future, their family. When Harmon was in the military, he learned that many physicians were willing to drop everything and serve as a doctor in a war zone when he asked them to. In turn, Harmon felt obligated to “stay on task” and be a role model in his responsibilities.

Harmon told medical students and faculty that involvement in an organization such as AMA allows physicians to make an impact in medicine — in the field they practice medicine and in policies that impact doctors, and even more widely. “You can have an impact beyond one stethoscope at a time,” he said. “You can impact 300 million Americans,” he said.

The AMA is the largest and most influential physicians’ organization in the United States. The Chicago-based, 175-year-old institution has become inclusive, Harmon said, with sections that represent all demographics of doctors, including women physicians, medical students, senior physicians, international medical graduate students, and young physicians, and a minority affairs section, to name a few.  

“As chair and past AMA president, what is also equally important are the patients I represent,” Harmon said.

The organization influences policy decisions and medical practice and patient safety at state and federal levels.  The organization, Harmon said, helps physicians share their input in “the health care equation,” thus shaping policy that is ultimately “physician-driven and patient-centered.”

The AMA is focused on representing physicians with a unified voice, removing obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to confront public health crises, and driving the future of medicine.

Another key aspect is providing up-to-date, evidence-based resources, research and clear guidance from trustworthy sources. Harmon shared some specific key topics and issues the AMA has recently been focused on, including:

  • Fighting COVID-19 and an epidemic of misinformation.
  • Improving health literacy for teachers and students.
  • Strategies to reduce violence in the healthcare workplace and intimidation against healthcare workers.
  • Improving heart health for black women.
  • Partnerships to prevent diabetes.

More about the AMA can be found at the organization’s webpage. 

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