Dr. Patrice Harris

Patricia Harris, MD, MPH heads up the American Medical Association and is in the thick of addressing physician needs and challenges during the Coronavirus. The IMG or international medical graduates are a vital part of delivering care across our nation and have a critical role in our ‘health care safety net’. The immigration restrictions recently in the news will not affect healthcare professionals, as our government departments of state and homeland security allows for IMG’s to care for patients as the pandemic escalates. Most of us think of medical doctors when we see MD same as Patrice Harris who while growing up was influenced by the TV show ‘Marcus Welby MD’. In her determination to become a doctor she deflected attempts to be steered toward nursing instead choosing psychology where she built a career mastering psychology then ‘Doctor of Medicine’ through West Virginia University. 

Here is a passage from her website about her career. ‘Starting with medical school at West Virginia University, followed by a psychiatry residency and child psychiatry and forensics fellowships at Emory, and then as the Barton senior policy fellow at the Emory University School of Law, she has worked for children both clinically and in the advocacy arena. At Emory she addressed public policy for abused and neglected children before the Georgia legislature and in public education programs. Dr. Harris has also given invited lectures and presentations on the opioid epidemic, mental health, childhood trauma, integration of health services, health equity, and the intersection of athletics and health.  She has appeared on numerous media outlets–CNN, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, New York Times, Frontline Medical News, MSNBC, NBC, NPR–discussing topics such as the opioid epidemic, prescription drug availability and cost, scope of practice, access to care, mental health parity, obesity, and gun violence.’ Learn more…

Dr. Patrice Harris, tenure as president of the American Medical Association (AMA) began in June of 2019 and ends in June of 2020. Her work with the AMA involves advocating for physicians’ wellbeing, sustainability of their practices, student loans repayment, securing more doctors through immigration, safety and protection during very tough and demanding requirements of COVID-19. She is concerned also about issues impacting 55,000 African American doctors and peer groups: that are Hispanic, Native American, and Asian Pacific professionals.  All of these physicians address similar concerns of disparity in their communities, though some unique issues are distinguishable within cultural groups. They deserve respect and attention. A recent AMA webinar in which Patrice Harris, MD, MPH participated was facilitated by fellow AMA staffer Aletha Maybank, MD, MPH, titled ‘Prioritizing Equity – The Experience of Physicians of Color & COVID-19. Learn more about AMA webinar…

What are some of the issues that physicians need to be addressed facing our community?

Patrice Harris, MD –  AMA – Provide trusted information

Give voice to concerns of physicians

PPE- Personal Protective Equipment

Physician sustainable practices

Impact on Physicians of Color

Elena Rios, MD Hispanic Obesity, Blood Pressure

Keep patients at home

Engaging retired Doctors/New graduates

Address ‘lots of fear’ and toxic stress

Caring for undocumented and newly arrived immigrants

Oliver Brooks, MD African American small group practitioners

Safety of Staff

Financial support and waiting for stimulus money for 3 months

Layoff of staff and trying to save homes

Winston Wong, MD Asian Pacific address social determinants of health


Language Access/Cultural barriers

Small practices

Most vulnerable

Siobhan Wescott,MD Native American Tribes are under sourced

Shortage of doctors at 24% vacancy

Doctors are stretched Then

Must be part of solutions

Brian Thompson, MD 575 nations of Native Indians

Doing ceremonies for those sick or died

Challenges of traditional healings

Incredible health disparity

Provided 1/2 amounts for Medicaid/Medicare annually

What are some Myths that are challenging to Physicians?

  • The coronavirus does not affect Black People
  • Younger People are not affected
  • Conspiracy Theories that virus was developed from government experiments
  • Pandemic is not in rural America 
  • Asians are the source of the disease 

While these myths are false even worst they mislead people to behave in ways that discourage their willingness to access care. ‘Public Charge’  a policy recently upheld by the US Supreme Court gives government agencies authority to not allowed flu shots for incoming immigrants and discourage access to food stamps for their children. See video on ‘public charge’… This hostility towards immigrants and other disparities drive people underground to not being tested or treated. The consequences of which remains a threat to everyone’s health as it is unknown who has what aspect of the coronavirus that could show up anywhere at anytime unsuspected. This is one of those scenarios where benign neglect, established policy and practices to wall of certain populations of people in our society only perpetuates festering illnesses that hidden in the shadows becomes status of healthcare provided to essential service workers where most come in contact with at some point or another. Given the nature of the coronavirus or COVID-19 we remain susceptible and constantly endangered if we fail to give proper healthcare to everyone who enters our country.  Historical treatment of all racial groups including the poor denied for centuries, will not work under this virus continuous threat. Stopping disparities will help contain the outbreak. This novel coronavirus does not discriminate nor ought our healthcare systems. ‘Going Back to Normal’ with COVID-19 in our society is not feasible.  

How Do These Physicians View the Future of Medicine?

The participants in this seminar recognized the necessity of reaching an equitable healthcare system. They understand rebuilding them for inclusion, changing policy, systems and structures.  Engaged all groups in the planning and development of healthcare components: hospitals, insurance companies, government, transportation and in social/cultural determinants of health has become a requirement. Affordability, and language services will require more competence from medical doctors thus more diversity throughout systems. An infusion of more dollars from more traditional funding like military into the  healthcare industry reduces comorbidity (a medical condition existing simultaneously but independently with another condition in a patient), establish an office inside the federal government that advocates for and addresses health disparity.

There will be many opportunities to hear from Dr. Patrice Harris. Her presence during these times of COVID-19 provides an important voice for our national and international family of physicians who must navigate a healthcare system. One that is being challenged as the first line of defense against the novel coronavirus which unveils major flaws, insisting on changing past behaviors, questioning policies in private healthcare, exposing social and cultural racism, deleting traditional care practices from life to death, showing incompetence protecting medical professionals and essential workers, while battling a global pandemic to sustain humanity.

Art and Article by Lillian L Thompson, founder and creative for Lillianonline.us


  1. Lillian, thank you. This was very insightful. African-Americans are on the front line serving in hospitals, other care facilities, public service operations, transit, solid waste, fire and police and as “essential workers” are risking there lives everyday — serving humanity. Words are not enough to express gratitude. How can a society reward them? If you have an answer – please share it.

    1. Karyn, thanks for checking out my blog. I realize there are many amazing African American women health professionals out their in the trenches. Also I thank essential workers as when I do go out. Without them our society would not work at all.

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