The Atlanta Medical Association

In the beginning

The challenging terrain and opportunities that existed for Black Medical Professionals in 1890 led Dr. Henry Rutherford Butler and Dr. J.W. Linder to organize a group of African American health care professionals. Originally this group was called the Atlanta Medical Association of Physicians, Dentists, and Pharmacists.

When Drs. Butler and Linder founded the AMA, prospects were slim for African Americans who wanted to become healthcare professionals. Those Black men and women who managed to beat the odds worked day and night to exercise their right to provide medical services for their community, but were barred from becoming members of existing local, state, and national medical societies established by white physicians. During this time the African American community’s access to health care was minimal or non-existent; and the political power necessary to leverage access to both governmental and non-governmental resources was all but absent.

Medical historians Byrd and Clayton (2002) have summarized the historical context for understanding the inequality of healthcare for African Americans before the establishment of Black medical professional organizations like the AMA and the challenges that remained because of the tenacious system of institutionalized racism and segregation welded into the infrastructure of this society:

At no time since their arrival in the Americas have African Americans shared equal health care status or outcome with other Americans”

While the sanitation, nutritional, and environmental health conditions under which African-Americans were forced to live were responsible for much of their adverse health conditions, an ever growing responsibility for the health picture based on race can be laid squarely at the feet of the health system. As health care treatments, procedures, and interventions become more effective, the proportion of the race-based health deficit due to structural and functional deficits in the system could be expected to increase (79).

Byrd and Clayton allude to the fact that the beginnings of the systematic mistreatment of African Americans by the medical establishment can be traced back to the centuries of enslavement of African people in America. Georgia was typical of other southern states: The high mortality rate of enslaved African women, men, and children occurred because of a combination of poor diet, poor living conditions, poor medical care, and overwork. Only about $3.00 per year was provided for medical treatment for each enslaved person. White physicians and scientist frequently used enslaved women, men, and children as guinea pigs for medical experiments and surgical procedures (42). Perhaps the collective memory of such brutalities in part explains why even today many African Americans are leery about participating in medical studies, signing up for organ donation or volunteering to submit to experimental treatment of diseases that plague them.

To counter medical mistreatment by their captors, enslaved Africans in Georgia relied on their own folk medicine to preserve their health and lives. At least ninety plants have been documented as being used by Black people for medicinal purposes during enslavement and beyond (Grant 42). This is not surprising, for the tradition of people of African descent successfully diagnosing and treating a wide range of ailments goes back to the days of the ancient Egyptian physician Imhotep.

(Excerpt from “All Day And All Night: “A History of the Atlanta Medical Association”)

Although the number of Black physicians and medical facilities providing services to African Americans has greatly increased, access remains a problem for the thousands of African Americans without adequate health care coverage.

Atlanta Medical Association Historic Timeline


Atlanta Medical Association of Physicians, Dentists, and Pharmacists Founded


Georgia State Medical Association (GSMA) of Physicians, Dentists, and Pharmacists founded in Augusta, Georgia (H.R. Butler MD of Atlanta, Georgia was the first President).


First Congregational Church in Atlanta, Georgia was the setting for the founding of the National Medical Association under the leadership of the GSMA.


The Atlanta Medical Association was incorporated in the State of Georgia. Petitioners were Calvin A. Brown Jr M.D., James D. Palmer M.D., and R.S. Douthard Jr M.D.


JoiSanne Brown, MD became the first female President of AMA.


AMA opened its Executive office at 1800 Peachtree.


AMA hosted its first public forum to address “Managed Care and its effects on African American Physicians and minority businesses.”


AMA hosted its first Legislative Dinner


AMA moved its office to the Academy of Medicine at 875 West Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta.


AMA hosted presentation by Surgeon General David T. Satcher, MD, PhD


Heritage Fund of the Atlanta Medical Association is formally established.

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According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in 2016-2017, only 7% of all medical school matriculants were of African-American ethnicity as compared to the 13% make-up of all Americans.  It is well-known, even corroborated by studies, that African-American patients have more trust and slightly better health outcomes with physicians that look like them.  AAMC has also surveyed medical students and acknowledge that African-Americans are more willing to practice in underserved, minority-rich but physician-scarce areas.

In 2016 nearly 74% of new medical school graduates had education debt. The AAMC annual survey of medical school students also found that median education debt levels for graduates rose to $190,000 in 2016 from $125,372 in 2000, after being adjusted for inflation.  It has also been reported that the average household income of majority medical students is sometimes twice that of minorities.  The medical school classrooms are also being skewed towards higher income families.  Economic diversity is dwindling as access to quality college education becomes more threatened.

There are myriad reasons that we, the Atlanta Medical Association, need to extend ourselves and push to become extended family for our minority medical students.  The rising indebtedness of medical school education has been shown to influence the career choices of those still matriculating.  In the end, access to superior healthcare in our communities is jeopardized.  The attrition rate is high in the state of Georgia and the applicant pool is not keeping in step.  We must pick up the pace and help those who want to serve mankind through healthcare.  Medical school is difficult enough without the added stress of how to fund it.

We are proud to continue the work of our 501-(c)(3) foundation, the Heritage Fund of the Atlanta Medical Association, and establish the AMA Endowment.  Over the past twenty years, hundreds of minority medical students from Morehouse School of Medicine, Howard University College of Medicine and Meharry Medical College have been granted close to a half-million dollars. The cause of raising money for these worthwhile scholarships now can live in perpetuity.  We ask that you consider supporting our goal of raising a ten-million-dollar endowment.  Join us and contribute to the great legacy of the Atlanta Medical Association and by doing so, you ultimately will care for generations to come.

AMA Endowment Campaign Committee