When the new president of the nearly 300,000-member American Medical Association was installed Wednesday afternoon during the group's convention in Chicago, Utahns recognized a familiar face from their own medical community.
And they heard a familiar message: Put the welfare of your patients above your own financial self-interest and reflect on the role of "humanism" in medicine.So said Dr. Alan R. Nelson, a Salt Lake endocrinologist and former Utah Medical Association president, during his inaugural address before more than 3,000 medical specialists (including 433 AMA delegates) who gathered at the Chicago Hilton.
"I am calling for practitioners to set worthy examples in the application of humanistic principles to our relationships with our patients. We must be sensitive to their needs; manage our time so their waiting is minimized; respect their dignity and privacy in our offices and hospitals; understand and meet their and their family's desire for information, and respect their right to choose," he said in a Deseret News interview before he left. "These are criteria that each of us can apply to ourselves."
Nelson, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine, has taken the helm of the prestigious association during one of the most difficult times in medical history.
This is an age of contrasts. Medical technology is rapidly advancing, yet as many as 37 million uninsured Americans can't afford to utilize it. Many Americans are living longer, yet the number of lives claimed by AIDS continues to rise. Physicians, plagued with skyrocketing malpractice insurance, are also losing the public's trust.
"In a 1987 AMA poll, only 63 percent of the public agreed with the statement `most doctors take a genuine interest in their patients,' " the Logan native said. "Only 45 percent think that doctors usually explain things well to their patients. Only 36 percent agree with the statement, `most doctors spend enough time with their patients.' Fifty-six (percent) think we are too interested in making money."
Nelson encouraged his colleagues to practice the "art of medicine, (which) in my view, in addition to humanism with its values of compassion and understanding, includes diligence and faithfulness, altruism and ethical behavior."
Finally, the new AMA spokesman urged specialists to learn to measure and enhance "the special sense" that "permits us to individualize, to the individual patient, the generalized body of skills and information that form the basis of our ability," the president said.
The popular physician has practiced what he preaches.
Throughout much of his career, Nelson has been involved in medical peer review and quality assurance. He organized a statewide peer review program for the Utah Medical Association and has been an AMA spokesman at congressional hearings on national health insurance, peer review organizations, vaccine injury compensation and physician payment.
Nelson, who has also represented the AMA at hearings of the President's AIDS Commission and the Food and Drug Administration, emphasized that the art of medicine is that quality that makes a doctor more than just a scientist.
"It provides the bond between patient and physician that will make medicine a career of satisfaction and fulfillment as we apply the wonders of science now and through succeeding generations of men and women proud to be called `doctor,' " he said.
Dr. Alan R. Nelson
-Only second Utahn to serve as AMA president
-Private practitioner of internal medicine and endocrinology in Salt Lake City
-Member of AMA Board of Trustees since 1980
-Former President of the Utah Medical Association
-Staff physician, LDS Hospital
-Clinical professor of medicine, University of Utah Medical Center
-Graduate of Northwestern University School of Medicine
-Interned at Highland-Alameda County Hospital, Oakland, Calif.
-Residency training at the U. of U. Affiliated Hospitals.
-Served in U.S. Air Force as Chief of Medical Services at George Air Force Base
-Husband to Gwen, and father to John, Shannon and Alan L.
-Enjoys skiing, tennis and backpacking in western wilderness area.
Leader in world of medicine draws impressive reviews
"I know Alan Nelson well. He is bright, highly motivated and very effective. He knows the nation's health problems inside and outside. He will do an excellent job."--Dr. James O. Mason, U.S. assistant secretary for health.
"This new position brings a tremendous honor to both Alan and to the state of Utah. Alan is one of the finest persons to fill these responsibilities that I know of. He's given alot of his time to public service and now we couldn't ask for a better person to serve as president of AMA. I look forward to working with him on many issues in the future."--Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"Alan Nelson is one of the most important leaders in American medicine today. He is not only personally pleasant and politically astute, but also has a clear vision of both the challenges and possibilities for medicine in our changing world."--Dr. Cecil O. Samuelson, vice president for health sciences, University of Utah.
"In addition to his wide knowledge of private practice of medicine, Dr. Nelson understands and appreciates the role of public health. He has been particularly supportive of issues such as immunization programs and the need to develop new vaccines. The public health community will look to strengthen its ties to the medical community under Dr. Nelson's leadership."--Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, executive director, Utah Department of Health.