CHICAGO, June 21 -- After a century and a half of white leadership, the American Medical Association Wednesday installed its first African-American president, Dr. Lonnie Bristow. Although elected last year, Bristow's formal inauguration during the AMA's annual meeting here officially toppled a 148-year-old color barrier that had become a minor embarrassment to some of the 250,000 physician members. Four percent of the members are African-American, and 40 percent of all U.S. physicians are members. 'It's important for us as an association to demonstrate to the outside community that we are an organization and a profession of diversity,' said Dr. Eugene Ogrod, an AMA delegate from Sacramento, Calif. Bristow, an internist from San Pablo, Calif., declined to attach any overarching significance to his appointment, although he acknowledged being 'mindful' of his place in AMA history. 'But it is not this that fills me with pride tonight,' Bristow said in prepared remarks distributed prior to his installation scheduled for 5 p.m. CDT. 'No, the pride I feel is for my profession, for my AMA. The son of an emergency room nurse, Bristow said his dream of becoming a doctor was first nurtured in the hospital where his mother worked. 'Every night I would watch my mother and the doctors and the other nurses,' Bristow recalled. 'I thought those men and women were heroes, nothing short of miracle workers...and I grew up wanting to be just like them.' Just as Bristow admired others, his colleagues say they look up to him as an exemplar of a caring, ethical physician.
'He's as thoughtful a human being as you will ever come across, and a fine physician in every sense of the word,' Dr. Frank Riddick told the AMA News. 'He has keen intellectual and analytical skills, combined with compassion that allows him to listen to others and learn from them. ' 'I don't look at him and think African-American. I think physician,' said Ogrod. Bristow's goals for the coming year include improving the public image of the AMA by stressing the group's medical mission over its high- profile Washington lobbying efforts. 'What the public wants from us is information they can put to work in their own lives, how to better manage their health, the health of children, their parents, their communities,' Bristow said. 'The problem right now is that they get more of that information from the AARP and hospitals and some volunteer groups that they do from us.' Bristow, 65, also hopes to focus the medical profession on high ethical standards. One-fourth of U.S. medical schools don't teach ethics courses, he said. In particular, he said, physicians need to protect patients from the cost-cutting policies of for-profit medical entities. 'The corporatized process imposed upon medicine is driving a wedge between physicians and the patients we serve,' Bristow said. He will hold office until June 1996. Bristow also chaired the AMA's Board of Trustees from June 1993 to June 1994. Dr. Bristow was president of the California Society of Internal Medicine and later, the American Society of Internal Medicine. In 1977, he was voted into the Institute of Medicine of the American Academy of Sciences. Born April 6, 1930, Dr. Bristow received his M.D. degree in 1957 from the New York University College of Medicine. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine and a master of the American College of Physicians. His sub-specialty area of medical practice is in occupational medicine. Dr. Bristow and his wife Marilyn live in Walnut Creek, Calif., and have two children. Their daughter, Elizabeth, whose educational focus in child growth and development as well as psychology, is a partner in a day-care center in Oakland, Calif. Their son, Robert, has completed his fourth year residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and is beginning a three-year fellowship in gynecological oncology at UCLA. The AMA represents some 250,000 physicians, only 4 percent of whom are African-Americans. Approximately 40 percent of the nation's physicians are AMA members.