‘No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?’: Editor of prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association is hounded out after outcry over tweet promoting podcast on racism

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  • Dr Howard Bauchner will step down as editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) after backlash over racism controversy
  • In February, a tweet from the journal’s official account read: ‘No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?’ 
  • JAMA said the tweet was promoting a podcast episode featuring two white doctors discussing structural racism 
  • The tweet and the podcast sparked an outcry from other medical professionals, who called both ‘cringeworthy’ and ‘appalling’ 
  • Bauchner, who will leave his position at the end of June, spent a decade at helm of JAMA and its network of journals run by the American Medical Association 
  • In March, he was placed on administrative leave while an independent committee conducted an investigation into production of the podcast
  • Edward Livingston, a JAMA editor, was quoted in now-deleted February podcast as saying: ‘Personally, I think taking “racism” out of the conversation would help’

The editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is stepping down after a tweet promoting a podcast that questioned whether systemic racism exists in medicine stoked harsh backlash on Twitter. 

Dr. Howard Bauchner will leave his job at the end of June after a decade at the helm of the prestigious journal and its network of publications run by the AMA. 

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A statement released by AMA quotes Bauchner as saying that he did not write the controversial tweet or have any role in the creation of the podcast that triggered the uproar.

‘I remain profoundly disappointed in myself for the lapses that led to the publishing of the tweet and podcast,’ he said in the statement.   

‘Although I did not write or even see the tweet, or create the podcast, as editor-in-chief, I am ultimately responsible for them.’ 

On February 24, a tweet from the journal’s official account read: ‘No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?’     

The tweet was promoting a podcast episode featuring two white doctors discussing how structural racism worsens health outcomes and what health systems can do to address it, JAMA said in an online description.  

However, it sparked an outcry from other medical professionals, who called the tweet and podcast ‘cringeworthy’ and ‘appalling.’

The AMA’s chief equity officer, Dr. Aletha Maybank, who is black, called the JAMA tweet and podcast ‘absolutely appalling.’

Dr Brittani James, a black Chicago physician who co-founded the Institute for Anti-Racism in Medicine, accused the journal of ‘whitesplaining racism.’ 

The podcast was billed as a discussion for skeptics and featured two white doctors: a deputy journal editor, Edward Livingston, and Dr. Mitch Katz, a physician who runs a New York City health system.

Livingston argued that racism is illegal and a term that should be avoided because it evokes negative feelings. 

‘Structural racism is an unfortunate term,’ said Livingston, the deputy editor, said on the podcast. 

‘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.’ 

Livingston later resigned at Bauchner’s request and JAMA created a new associate editor position for someone with expertise in racism in health care. 

CDC statistics show black, Native American and Alaskan Native women are up to three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related illnesses than white women. 

They also found that black and Native American people were up to twice as likely to die of COVID-19 than white people, with Hispanic people 2.4 times more likely to be killed by the virus. 

On the JAMA Network web site where the podcast was posted, the episode was pulled. Bauchner posted an audio clip less than a minute long in which he apologized.

‘The podcast on structural racism based on the discussion between Dr Ed Livingston and Dr Mitchell Katz has been withdrawn,’ Bauchner says in the clip. 

‘Comments made in the podcast were inaccurate, offensive, hurtful, and inconsistent with the standards of JAMA. 

‘Racism and structural racism exist in the U.S. and in health care. 

‘After careful consideration, I determined that the harms caused by the podcast outweighed any reason for the podcast to remain available on the JAMA Network. 

‘I once again apologize for the harms caused by this podcast and the tweet about the podcast. 

‘We are instituting changes that will address and prevent such failures from happening again.’  

The Chicago-based American Medical Association owns and publishes JAMA and had called the podcast ‘wrong’ and ‘harmful.’

It has no editorial control over JAMA’s content but Bauchner reports to the oversight committee, a seven-member board. Six of the board members are white.

Katz released a statement in March in which he said: ‘Systemic and interpersonal racism both still exist in our country – they must be rooted out.

‘I do not share the JAMA host’s belief of doing away with the word “racism” will help us be more successful in ending inequities that exists across racial and ethnic lines.

‘Further, I believe that we will only produce an equitable society when social and political structures do not continue to produce and perpetuate disparate results based on social race and ethnicity.

‘As I said during the podcast, if we are to eliminate structural racism, we must first acknowledge that it is real and take full accountability for the racial injustices of our country’s past.

‘Discriminatory racist ideologies are still embedded within many societal systems and policies that continue to negatively impact all persons, especially people of color in our nation.

‘As clinicians, we must understand how these structures and policies have a direct impact on the health outcomes of the patients and communities we serve.

‘Therefore, I firmly believe that both interpersonal and structural racism still exists in our country and it is woefully naïve to say that no physician is a racist just because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade it.’

DailyMail.com has reached out to Livingston for comment. 

JAMA’s executive editor, Dr. Phil Fontanarosa, who will serve as interim editor-in-chief until a new editor is appointed, praised Bauchner for his ‘diligence, perseverance, evidence-based approach, and keen instincts.’

Fontanarosa said Bauchner was ‘committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion.’ 

During his tenure at the helm of JAMA, the journal ‘published more than 650 articles on race and racial and ethnic disparities and inequities in the last 5 years’ and ‘increased substantially the number of women, Asian, Black, and Hispanic members of the editorial boards and among decision-making editors,’ Fontanarosa wrote.

‘It’s a reasonable first step but it should not be seen as mission accomplished,’ Dr Raymond Givens, a black cardiologist in New York, said on Friday. 

‘He has been a vocal online critic of a lack of diversity among editors of JAMA and other prominent medical journals.’   

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