Medical journal editor-in-chief to step down amid racism controversy

Medical Watch

The American Medical Association announced Wednesday that Howard Bauchner, M.D., the chief editorial officer for The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), will step down from his position, effective Wednesday, June 30.

Dr. Bauchner had been on administrative leave while a review of a JAMA podcast and tweet about structural racism in medicine was ongoing.

“I remain profoundly disappointed in myself for the lapses that led to the publishing of the tweet and podcast,” said Dr. Bauchner in a statement released through the JAMA Network. “Although I did not write or even see the tweet, or create the podcast, as editor in chief, I am ultimately responsible for them.”

The podcast and tweet in question have since been removed.

Although Bauchner announced his intent to resign from his position as editor in chief, many who expressed outrage over the podcast say JAMA’s racial problems are entrenched. 

“I wasn’t surprised by the level of racism in the podcast. What actually surprised me was that they said it out loud,” said Dr. Brittani James, family medicine physician

The controversy stems from a February podcast during which JAMA deputy editor Ed Livingston said structural racism no longer existed in the United States. Livingston – who is white – went on to say, “structural racism is an unfortunate term…personally, I think taking racism out of the conversation will help. Many people like myself are offended by the implication that we are somehow racist.”

A tweet from JAMA promoting the podcast read, “no physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?”

The reaction was swift, among them twin Chicago doctors Brittani James and Brandi Jackson, co-founders of the Institute for Antiracism in Medicine. They say they started a Change.org petition that has amassed more than 9,000 signatures asking JAMA to stop perpetuating racism in medicine.  

“It’s about understanding that your base assumptions about somebody, about the source of their suffering, it changes the way you diagnosis, it changes the treatment plans, it even changes how much effort you put into helping them change,” Dr. Jackson said. “It changes the care you give, and you don’t have to be a villain of a doctor for that to be true.”

Dr. James added: “If people are thinking this is JAMA’s first offense, absolutely not,” she said. “This is something that many of us have seen for a long time.

“The sentiment that really came out in that podcast is people have to understand that is really endemic to the Journal of American Medical Association for what we’ve heard through our advocacy and organizing and that’s a big deal.”

JAMA Executive Editor Phil Fontanarosa, M.D., will serve as interim editor in chief until a new editor is appointed. A search committee to start the process of appointing a new editor in chief has already begun, the American Medical Association adds.

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