Howard Bauchner, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association – one of the most important editors in the scientific world – resigned at the end of the month, following recent controversy over how the journal and one of its editors he rejected the question of racism in medicine.
In late February 2021, JAMA published a podcast by two of the magazine’s editors, Ed Livingston and Mitchell Katz, which was apparently intended to discuss structural racism in the medical profession. Both are white and do not appear to have any relevant academic experience in discussing the issue. At times, Livingston seemed to wonder if the concept of structural racism really existed while making pity to assure readers that he himself was not racist. He also wondered if the problem could be described differently because “the term racism invokes feelings between people.”
Many experts, of course, agree that racism continues to play an insidious role in helping to drive worse health care outcomes among communities of color. As well during the covid-19 pandemic, for example, mortality rates were disproportionately higher for Blacks, Latinx, and Native Americans, while some groups also relatively struggled to have access to the many covid-19 vaccines now available.
Shortly after the podcast was released, the magazine’s Twitter account promoted the podcast asking, “No doctor is racist, so how can structural racism be in health care?” The heavily mocked tweet was eventually deleted, as was the podcast, but not before JAMA had been submitted to plenty of criticism from outside doctors. In mid-March, Livingston renounced from his position as assistant editor; soon after, the American Medical Association announced that it was placing Bauchner on administrative leave while conducting an investigation into the matter. And now, Bauchner is leaving as a result.
“I am very disappointed in myself for the delays that have led to the publication of the tweet and the podcast. Even if I have not written or seen the tweet or created the podcast, as editor in chief, I am ultimately responsible. for them, ”Bauchner said in a statement statement from the AMA.
For now, JAMA executive editor Phil Fontanarosa will serve as interim editor-in-chief. But it is not known if any other action will be taken by the newspaper due to the WADA investigation into the podcast. The AMA has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Following the repercussions, several doctors have called for a broader discussion of the racial barriers that can harm patients and doctors, one that is not limited to breaking down a podcast or a newspaper.
Earlier this March, the Institute for Antiracism in Medicine– an organization dedicated to “the abolition of racism in the field of medicine” founded this year by black women doctors in Chicago – circulated a petition asking JAMA to address the issues raised by the podcast through a review and restructuring, which to date has received more than 9,000 signatures. Brandi Jackson, a doctor and one of the institute’s founders, told Gizmodo in an email that Bauchner’s resignation was the right thing to do. But I wanted to see the full results of the Investigate JAMA before declaring victory. And meanwhile, he highlighted the need for the medical profession and institutions like JAMA to account for racism in its past and present.
“We have to remember that no one, however powerful, can sustain a single system of oppression,” Jackson said. “We have to keep our feet firmly on the pedal of accountability for JAMA … We must not give up until the entire field of medicine responds to the racism embedded in its practices.”