WVU Foundation board of directors member and alum Dr. Patrice Harris was officially introduced on Tuesday as the first African-American woman president of the American Medical Association (AMA).
“It’s truly a dream come true to stand before you tonight,” she said. “A dream my ancestors, parents, my extended family, and my friends supported before it even entered my imagination. A dream my West Virginia, Georgia, psychiatry and AMA families helped me achieve. And I know in my heart that, tonight, I am my ancestors' wildest dreams.”
Harris, who has three degrees from WVU (BA ’82, Psychology, MA ’86, Counseling Psychology, MD ’92), is AMA's 174th president.
She will focus her tenure on the AMA’s three strategic arcs: attacking the dysfunction in health care by removing obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care; driving the future of medicine by reimagining medical education, training and lifelong learning, and by promoting innovation to tackle the biggest challenges in health care; and leading the charge to confront the chronic disease crisis and improve the health of the nation.
Additionally, Dr. Harris will continue to serve as chair of the AMA Opioid Task Force, which she has chaired since its inception in 2014, and will work to elevate the importance of mental health as a part of overall health, health equity and improving the diversity of the physician workforce, and the impact of childhood trauma on health.
“We face big challenges in health care today, and the decisions we make now will move us forward in a future we help create,” Dr. Harris said. “We are no longer at a place where we can tolerate the disparities that plague communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. But we are not yet at a place where health equity is achieved in those communities. We are no longer at a place where underrepresented groups are not welcome in medicine; but we are not yet at a place where underrepresented groups are entering, or graduating, from medical schools at the rates of their peers.
"The saying ‘if you can see it, you can believe it’ is true, she continued. "And I hope to be tangible evidence for young girls and young boys and girls from communities of color that you can aspire to be a physician. Not only that, you can aspire to be a leader in organized medicine.”
First elected to the AMA Board of Trustees in 2011, Dr. Harris has held the executive offices of AMA board secretary and AMA board chair. In addition to her leadership position with the AMA Opioid Task Force, Dr. Harris has been active on several other AMA task forces and committees on health information technology, payment and delivery reform, and private contracting. She has also chaired the influential AMA Council on Legislation and co-chaired the Women Physicians Congress.
Prior to her AMA service, Dr. Harris was elected to the American Psychiatric Association Board of Trustees and president of the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association. She was also the founding president of the Georgia Psychiatry Political Action Committee. In 2007, Dr. Harris was selected Psychiatrist of the Year by the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association.
On both national and local levels, Dr. Harris has spearheaded efforts to integrate public health, behavioral health and primary care services, while incorporating efforts to address the social determinants of health.
Currently, Dr. Harris continues in private practice and consults with both public and private organizations on health service delivery and emerging trends in practice and health policy. She is an adjunct assistant professor in the Emory Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and an adjunct clinical assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Morehouse School of Medicine.
A native of Bluefield, W. Va., Dr. Harris received her medical degree from the West Virginia University School of Medicine and completed a psychiatry residency and child psychiatry fellowship at Emory University School of Medicine. She was inducted in 2007 to the West Virginia University Academy of Distinguished Alumni.