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Wed 13 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

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Medical group apologises for racist past

America's largest physician group has made a formal apology for more than a century of discrimination against the nation's black doctors.

America's largest physician group has made a formal apology for more than a century of discrimination against the nation's black doctors.

The American Medical Association has admitted to a litany of errors, including barring black physicians from its ranks and failing to participate in landmark legislation to end racial discrimination.

The AMA has pledged to increase its percentage of minority physicians and their role in the association.

The apology follows a report by an independent panel of experts, tasked with studying the history of what the AMA termed "the racial divide in organised medicine".

The study was published in full in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The point of the apology is to acknowledge our policies and practices in the past that discriminated against African American physicians," said Dr Ronald Davis, the AMA's immediate past president.

Dr Nelson Adams, president of the National Medical Association (NMA) which represents black physicians in the United States, said the group was founded in response to the AMA's discrimination.

"AMA looked the other way when local medical associations worked to exclude most black physicians from becoming members," he said.

This exclusion meant black physicians were denied admitting privileges at hospitals, financial support such as loans to open practices and malpractice insurance.

Continuing education was also difficult because black doctors weren't allowed to attend medical conferences.

The legacy of the AMA's policies has impacted on healthcare for minorities.

Studies have found that African Americans face a disproportionately high risk of all cancers, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Even when African Americans receive the same income, insurance and education as their white compatriots, they receive less care.

"When AMA doesn't get on board with these things, it impacts all of us. It certainly impacts the black community," said Adams.

African American physicians account for only 3 to 4% of all doctors in the United States.

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