Top editor at JAMA to step down following outrage over colleague’s comments about racism in medicine

Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor-in-chief of JAMA, will step down after comments made by another editor on the publication’s podcast about structural racism in medicine sparked outrage.

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The editor-in-chief of the prestigious medical journal JAMA, Howard Bauchner, will step down June 30 following backlash after another editor at the publication made controversial comments about racism in medicine, the Chicago-based American Medical Association (AMA) announced Tuesday. 

The editor-in-chief of the prestigious medical journal JAMA, Howard Bauchner, will step down June 30 following backlash after another editor at the publication made controversial comments about racism in medicine, the Chicago-based American Medical Association (AMA) announced Tuesday.

C-span.org screenshot from September 2020

The editor-in-chief of the prestigious medical journal JAMA will step down June 30 following backlash after an editor at the publication made controversial comments about racism in medicine, the Chicago-based American Medical Association (AMA) announced Tuesday.

Dr. Howard Bauchner has been editor-in-chief of JAMA and JAMA Network since 2011, but he’s been on administrative leave since March when comments about structural racism made by another editor on the publication’s podcast, and a tweet promoting the podcast, sparked outrage.

“I remain profoundly disappointed in myself for the lapses that led to the publishing of the tweet and podcast,” Dr. Bauchner said in the announcement. “Although I did not write or even see the tweet, or create the podcast, as editor-in-chief, I am ultimately responsible for them.”

Dr. Edward Livingston, a deputy editor at JAMA — who is white — said structural racism no longer existed in the U.S. during a Feb. 24 podcast, The New York Times reported.

“Structural racism is an unfortunate term,” Dr. Livingston, said during the podcast, according to The Times. “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.”

In a now-deleted tweet promoting the podcast, The New York Times said the journal wrote, “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?”

Livingston later resigned, the Times reported.

Over 9,000 individuals have signed a change.org petition following the podcast and accompanying tweet calling for a review of Bauchner’s leadership as well as changes in the editorial process to ensure a more inclusive publication.

“The podcast and associated promotional message are extremely problematic for minoritized members of our medical community,” the petition, created by the Institute for Antiracism in Medicine, says. “Racism was created with intention and must therefore be undone with intention. Structural racism has deeply permeated the field of medicine and must be actively dissolved through proper antiracist education and purposeful equitable policy creation.”

In place of the now-deleted podcast is an apology from Bauchner.

“Comments made in the podcast were inaccurate, offensive, hurtful, and inconsistent with the standards of JAMA,” Bauchner said in the minute-long audio clip. “Racism and structural racism exist in the U.S. and in health care.”

Dr. Brittani James, a family medicine doctor and co-founder of the Chicago-based Institute for Antiracism in Medicine said Bauchner’s resignation is a “necessary, but not sufficient” step toward equity within JAMA.

“This is a systemic problem, so getting rid of a single person isn’t going to fix a broken system of a broken institution,” James told the Chicago Sun-Times.

James said she wants activists to stay engaged and ensure JAMA continues to be held accountable.

“I think it’s very easy to look at this ... and saying ‘wow we did it,’“ James said. “Yes, we want to breathe; yes, we want to celebrate that our voices have been lifted up, but at the same time we have to stay vigilant.”

The AMA said JAMA Executive Editor Dr. Phil Fontanarosa will serve as interim editor-in-chief until a new editor is appointed.

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