Celebrating ACP's history, embracing its future

By taking note of how far the American College of Physicians has come in the past 100 years, one can get a better sense of how much farther the organization needs to go.

It is my great honor to write my first column as President of the American College of Physicians as we mark the 100th anniversary of our founding. Internal Medicine Meeting 2015 in Boston was the kickoff to a year of celebrating ACP's past and embracing its future.

The annual meeting provided many activities and programs to pay homage to ACP's role in shaping internal medicine, the profession, and the College's many contributions to advancing the health of patients and communities. As usual, the scientific sessions were superb; the camaraderie and fellowship among medical students, Resident/Fellow Members, Fellows, and Masters was palpable; and all attendees departed invigorated to advance their work in the years ahead.

In some quarters, it might be easy to dismiss a celebration of 100 years of existence as just empty sentimentality. But I would assert the opposite. By taking note of how far we have come, we get a better sense of how much farther we need to go.

And so it is fitting that College leadership, in planning for the Centennial celebration, decided to fully chronicle the College's development by publishing “Serving Our Patients and Profession: A Centennial History of the American College of Physicians (1915-2015).” Under the superb editorial direction of 2 distinguished Masters of the College, John Tooker, MD, MBA, MACP, Executive Vice President and CEO Emeritus, and David C. Dale, MD, MACP, President Emeritus, this volume aims to augment 4 previously published histories and do so in a way that reflects the vast changes in American medicine, our membership, and our increasingly international presence in many countries of the world. The book has 14 chapters by 29 authors, many of whom are former and/or current College officers, Regents, or Governors.

Like many organizations, the College has indeed had its ups and downs and fits and starts. In the second chapter, we are reminded that the key actor in ACP's founding was the New Yorker Heinrich Stern, MD, who felt strongly that there was a need for an organization on par with the Royal College of Physicians of London, but with a decidedly American bent, to improve education and medical practice standards.

Leadership in medicine and the profession is addressed in Chapter 3 by 2 illustrious College leaders and Masters, Walter J. McDonald, MD, MACP, and Alan R. Nelson, MD, MACP, who recount, with transparency, the many times in the College's early years when there was a dearth of leadership and stability.

They note that in the wake of Dr. Stern's death in 1918, a “rescue committee” was empaneled and made the critical key decision to move the College headquarters from New York to Chicago. This decision led to the process of making ACP a truly national organization.

It is indeed fitting that these 2 giants of internal medicine would collaborate for this chapter as they provided the catalytic leadership of both ACP and the American Society of Internal Medicine (ASIM), respectively, which resulted in a very successful merger in 1998. For that we clearly owe them a profound debt of gratitude.

Like many aspects of American life in the 19th and 20th centuries, the College's membership and leadership were very homogeneous. I was delighted to collaborate with former ACP Regent Valerie E. Stone, MD, MPH, FACP, on a chapter titled “The Quest for Diversity and Inclusion for Our Members and the Patients We Serve,” which chronicles in detail the era of nihilistic thinking that excluded African-American and female physicians from participating in the College's affairs until the late 1960s and early 1970s.

These years marked the election of the first African-American Regent and Master, W. Lester Henry, MD, MACP, in 1974; the election of the first female Master, Helen Taussig, MD, MACP, in 1972; the election of the first woman, Harriet P. Dustan, MD, MACP, to the Board of Regents in 1979; and the election of 1 of my personal heroes, Gerald E. Thomson, MD, MACP, as the College's first African-American President in 1995.

We further cover the emergence of international medical graduates in the College and the outstanding work through various committees to broaden membership to them as well as to women and minorities, and we highlight ACP's leadership in addressing access to care and health care disparities for vulnerable and minority populations. The College's hard-earned success and work in diversifying its membership were on full display as I walked the halls of the Boston Convention Center during Internal Medicine Meeting 2015. We have indeed come a long way from 1915!

Other subjects covered in the Centennial history book include the Annual Session and Chapter meetings, Annals of Internal Medicine, MKSAP, ACP publications, ethics and professionalism, health and public policy, and the emergence of ACP as a truly international organization.

The final chapter on the future of the College is coauthored by Board of Regents Chair Emeritus Robert M. Centor, MD, MACP, and our outstanding Executive Vice President and CEO, Steven E. Weinberger, MD, FACP, who remind us that many challenges and opportunities are before us as we strive to advance internal medicine and health care in general.

It will be an honor of a lifetime to serve you and our profession as President of the American College of Physicians. Mindful of our 100 years of strife and struggle, and many successes, I embrace this opportunity with gusto and look forward to the important work we undertake together to begin our College's second century of service.