After an outcry over racism comments from an editor at JAMA, the influential medical journal, top editor Dr. Howard Bauchner will resign from his post effective June 30th.
The move was announced Tuesday by the American Medical Association, which oversees the journal. Dr. Bauchner, who has headed JAMA since 2011, has been on leave since March due to an ongoing investigation into comments on the journal’s podcast.
Dr. Edward Livingston, another editor at JAMA, had claimed that socio-economic factors, not structural racism, hampered communities of color. A tweet promoting the podcast had said that no doctor could be racist. It was later deleted.
“I am still deeply disappointed in myself for the failures that led to the publication of the tweet and podcast,” said Dr. Bauchner in a statement. “Even though, as editor-in-chief, I neither tweeted nor watched or created the podcast, I am ultimately responsible for it.”
Last month, AMA leaders admitted serious missteps and proposed a three-year plan to reduce “structural racism” within the organization and in medicine. In Tuesday’s announcement, the status of the investigation at JAMA was not mentioned. The magazine declined further comments.
“This is a real moment for JAMA and the AMA to recreate from a founding story based on segregation and racism to one that is now racial justice,” said Dr. Stella Safo, a black family doctor at the Icahn Medical School on Mount Sinai in New York.
Dr. Safo and her colleagues launched a petition, now signed by more than 9,000 people, calling on JAMA to restructure its staff and hold a series of city hall talks on racism in medicine. “I think this is a step in the right direction,” she said of the announcement.
However, other reviewers said they would withhold their judgment to see how the organization addressed what it believed to be widespread neglect of the health effects of racism in its magazines.
“In the entire history of all the journals in the JAMA network, there has been only one non-white publisher,” noted Dr. Raymond Givens, a cardiologist at Columbia University in New York. In October, Dr. Givens to Dr. Bauchner and noted that the editors of JAMA magazines were predominantly white and male. Dr. Bauchner responded, according to Dr. Givens don’t.
“This is no cause for celebration,” he said of the announcement, adding that he had no intention of taking Dr. To endanger Bauchner. Appointing a top color editor won’t solve the problems either, said Dr. Givens.
“Just looking for a colored person is missing the point,” he added. “I’m more interested in a brave voice. I want someone who is ready to take a stand and move things forward. “
The podcast that started the events aired on February 24th and did not include black researchers or experts on racism in medicine.
“Structural racism is an unfortunate term,” said the white Dr. Livingston on the podcast. “Personally, I think taking racism out of the conversation will help. Many people like me are offended by the suggestion that we are somehow racist. “
The podcast was promoted with a tweet from the journal stating, “No doctor is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?” After widespread protests in the medical community, the journal removed the podcast and deleted the tweet .
“The comments on the podcast were inaccurate, offensive, hurtful and not up to JAMA’s standards,” said Dr. Bauchner in a statement released a week later. “We’re making changes that fix such errors and prevent them from happening again.”
Dr. Livingston later resigned, and the AMA put Dr. Bauchner on March 25th on administrative leave.
The JAMA magazine family, under the direction of Dr. Bauchner has added four new titles and has been expanded to include podcasts, videos and new, shorter article types. Critics noted, however, that the journals seldom dealt with structural racism in medicine and more frequently published papers that linked health inequalities to socio-economic or biological factors.
Dr. Bauchner is offering magazines a chance to improve, said Dr. Mary Bassett, Professor of Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.
“Medical journals have helped develop the racist notion that races have intrinsic differences that affect health,” said Dr. Bassett. Magazines are “challenged to accept racism as a health problem and not just to accept it”.
Dr. Bauchner told the New York Times last month that JAMA had published “more than 100 articles on topics such as social determinants of health, health inequalities and structural racism” in only the last five years. He also noted that JAMA only accepted a tiny fraction of the manuscripts received.
He said in Tuesday’s statement that his resignation would serve the magazine better. “The best way forward for the JAMA network, and for me personally, is to create an opportunity for new leadership at JAMA,” he said.
In an editorial published Tuesday in JAMA, colleagues at the magazine praised Dr. Bauchner and said he left “an indelible legacy of progress, innovation and excellence in medical journalism”.
With the search for Dr. Bauchner’s successor started. The editor-in-chief of the magazine, Dr. Phil Fontanarosa, will act as interim editor-in-chief.
Whoever the new editor may be, he or she must acknowledge the profound impact of structural racism on health outcomes for communities of color, said Dr. Bassett.
“Racism works structurally and is not simply the result of ignorant, misguided or even racist people,” she added. “Since a new editor-in-chief is being sought, there is a chance for JAMA to resolve this idea. I hope you can do it. “