Following controversial comments from a deputy editor at JAMA on racism in medicine, the editor-in-chief of the renowned medical journal was put on administrative leave on Thursday.
An American Medical Association committee that oversees the journal said Dr. Howard Bauchner will be replaced by an interim editor pending the results of an independent investigation. The decision was announced in an email to employees on Thursday.
JAMA is one of the world’s leading medical journals, publishing research that shapes the scientific agenda and public order around the globe. The controversy began when Dr. Ed Livingston, an associate editor, said on a February 24 podcast that structural racism no longer exists in the United States.
“Structural racism is an unfortunate term,” said Dr. Livingston who is white. “Personally, I think it will be helpful to take racism out of the conversation. A lot of people like me are offended that we are kind of racist. “
The podcast was promoted with a tweet from the magazine that said, “No doctor is racist. So how can there be structural racism in healthcare?” The response to both was quick and furious, causing the diary to shut down the podcast and delete the tweet.
A week later, Dr. Bauchner on the controversy. “The comments made on the podcast were inaccurate, offensive, hurtful and contrary to JAMA’s standards,” said Dr. Bauchner in a statement. “We’re making changes to fix these types of errors and prevent them from happening again.”
Dr. Livingston later resigned. On Thursday evening, JAMA officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Many in the medical community said that the diary did not go far enough and that events provided an opportunity to make more systemic changes. In an email to the AMA leaders, a group of doctors called for “a careful investigation into the editorial and board of JAMA, including the removal of Dr. Howard Bauchner.”
The authors also initiated a petition, which has now been signed by nearly 7,000 people, calling on the journal to contact Dr. Hold Bauchner accountable and review and restructure the editorial process.
“It’s not only that this podcast is problematic – it’s also that there is a long and documented history of institutional racism at JAMA,” said Dr. Brittani James, a black doctor who practiced on the south side of Chicago and helped start the petition.
“This podcast should never have happened,” said Dr. Uché Blackstock, an ambulance doctor in New York. “That tweet should never have happened. The fact that podcasts were conceived, recorded, and published was incomprehensible. “
“I think it’s caused an incalculable amount of pain and trauma to black doctors and patients,” she said. “And I think it will be a long time before the diary heals this pain.”
More recently, other prominent journals have faced their role in perpetuating racism in medicine. In January, Health Editor-in-Chief Alan Weil admitted that “the magazine’s employees and executives are overwhelmingly white and economically privileged,” and committed to reviewing the editorial process.
The AMA’s email to staff promised that the investigation would look into “how the podcast and related tweet were developed, reviewed and ultimately published,” and that the association had hired independent investigators to ensure objectivity.
The email did not include a deadline for completing the investigation.