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It’s time to strengthen the links between patients, doctors and public health

It’s time to strengthen the links between patients, doctors and public health

Frederick M. Chen, MD, MPH, spent nearly 25 years in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington and more than a decade as chief of family medicine at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, but after more than two years working through the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Chen was ready for a change.

He found what he was looking for in the AMA.

Dr. Chen joined the AMA as the new chief of health and sciences in July. Talk about what he sees today as the most pressing public health challenge and what it raises for the next generation of physicians on a recent episode of “AMA Update.”


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Dr. Chen said gun violence, climate change and COVID-19 are still number one in consideration today, but in his eyes, the most pressing concern is the relationship between clinicians and public health.

“One of the things that excited me most about taking on this role was the opportunity to help renew the public’s faith in science, medicine, and public health,” he said. “We really have to double down on and reinforce the idea that we clinicians – and the AMA – are a reliable source of information. I think that’s the best way we can support our public health infrastructure.”

Dr. Chen recognized that the public health response to the pandemic has always been challenging, and in the case of COVID-19, the response is becoming more difficult as the issues become politicized. But patients still trust the doctors.

Doctors were the second most trusted profession in a 2021 Gallup poll. However, doctors still need to work to continue to instill and maintain that trust, something Dr. Chen said is ultimately about building relationships and connections.

“Patients trust you as a doctor, and they expect you to be expert and knowledgeable,” he said. “And they anticipate the answers that you have to have a solid foundation in science and medicine. Building that trust with patients, that’s the core of what we do.”

His new role with the AMA is seen as helping support clinicians to do just that, particularly as the country continues to deal with COVID-19 and its repercussions.

“People are tired, and I think we have to realize that,” he said. “Nationally and globally, COVID is not over. We are not over that and it is not over with us. We have to continue to celebrate doctors and health care workers for the work they have done and how much we depend on them and continue to depend on them.”

In Dr. Chen’s view, this celebration also includes the embodiment of the AMA’s mission statement to strive to improve public health. This means helping clinicians access the latest educational information and public health communications, while pursuing advocacy efforts at the national level to help clinicians practice better.

“These are the real key parts as we continue to recover from the pandemic,” he said.

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While Dr. Chen is concerned about doctors and public health, he is excited about future doctors who grew up and went to medical school during this key point in American history. They are learning about the social determinants of health, and many are motivated by issues related to health equity.

These terms are all lingua franca for the next generation of doctors, he said.

“For them to come into medicine with a clear understanding of the relationship between individual patient care and what affects their communities, the activism and the advocacy that is part of that, that is really encouraging and very exciting,” Dr. Chen said.

The AMA Update covers healthcare topics that affect the lives of clinicians and patients. Hear from clinicians and experts on public health, advocacy issues, scope of practice and more – because who’s doing the talking matters. You can watch each episode by subscribing to the AMA YouTube channel or the audio-only podcast version, which also features educational presentations and in-depth discussions.


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