AMA looks to address health disparities with hiring of its first chief health equity officer

A stethoscope on a computer keyboard
Like many other organizations, the American Medical Association has hired an executive to focus on health equity. (Getty/anyaberkut)

The American Medical Association (AMA) has hired its first chief health equity officer.

The AMA hired Aletha Maybank, M.D., to fill the new role with the country’s largest physician organization. A pediatrician and public health specialist, she will launch a new program to address health disparities in the U.S. and improve health overall.
Aletha Maybank
Aletha Maybank, M.D. (AMA)

Maybank previously served as deputy commissioner and founding director of the Center for Health Equity in New York’s public health department.

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She will now launch the AMA’s Center for Health Equity, designed to make health equity and diversity a key part of the organization. She will also be tasked with elevating the importance of and sustaining the group’s health equity efforts.

“The pursuit of health equity is a pathway towards excellence in our healthcare system—one that ensures the valuing of human experience and rights,” Maybank said in an announcement.

“Although the AMA and physicians cannot control all conditions that need to change to achieve health equity, the AMA has a role to identify their importance and to urge those who can have a direct role to act. This work starts by looking inward to unearth how our own institutional practices and policies may have exacerbated inequities and to determine what we will need to do to strengthen or change to advance equity. This path recognizes that we must do more as institutions to protect people,” she said.

The AMA is the latest organization to create a position to lead initiatives focused on the social determinants of health.

“With the hiring of Dr. Maybank and the beginning of her work, we aspire to advance our mission by reducing disparities and increasing health equity to improve health of all populations,” said James Madara, M.D., the AMA’s CEO and executive vice president.

“Dr. Maybank has deep expertise and experience in health equity and working with communities of color that have experienced historical disinvestment. We are excited by her vision, her vigor, and the opportunity to address the myriad reasons for health disparities and health inequity, including juvenile justice, bias, stereotyping, prejudice and clinical uncertainty, and the fact that chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension disproportionately affect underserved populations,” Madara said.

Last year at its annual meeting, the AMA’s House of Delegates passed a new policy to define health equity and outline a strategy toward realizing the goal of achieving optimal health for all that included plans to establish the new center with a dedicated budget, staff and multiyear road map.

Reports of health disparities have made the news this month. For instance, a study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that few black patients have had access to buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid addiction.

Huge racial disparities have also been found in deaths linked to pregnancy in the U.S. African American, Native American and Alaska Native women die of pregnancy-related causes at a rate about three times higher than those of white women, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Maybank holds a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University, an M.D. from Temple University School of Medicine and an M.P.H. from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. She is a pediatrician and is board certified in preventive medicine and public health.