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DECEMBER NEWSLETTER: Doctors Must Heal Health Care, and the Nation


This is a feature story in our December Newsletter by Dr. Dora Wang.

Doctors exercised far more power over health care reform at the turn of the last century.  The result was a golden age for American medicine, and for America itself. 

In 1905, the American Medical Association ruled that if drugs were advertised to patients, they could not also be advertised to doctors.  This stand against direct marketing of drugs to patients, along with the founding of the Food and Drug Administration in 1906, put quack medicine men out of business.  The term “snake oil salesmen” remains, a memory of health care reform at the turn of the last century.  Thanks to the actions of the doctors, drugs did not become widely marketed to the general public, until the 1990’s.

Physicians also took action against corporate profit in medicine.  In 1908, the Chicago Medical Society excluded Sears and Roebuck’s company physician, because he provided services to a corporation at reduced rates.  The physician resigned from Sears.  According to the 1934 AMA proceedings, for a physician to allow a “direct profit” to be made from his work by a corporation, “is harmful alike to the profession of medicine and the welfare of the people, and is against sound public policy.” 

These are but a few examples of physicians using their collective power to steer American medicine (and America) toward a thriving course for most of the 20th century. 

Today, there’s little disagreement that the sickness of our health care system has made the country as a whole, ill.  Can we wait for politicians in Washington, or business interests on Wall Street to fix things?

As specialists in health care, and in healing—physicians must lead the way toward real and meaningful health care reform today, just as we did at the turn of the last century.


Dora Calott Wang, M.D., is the author of The Kitchen Shrink:  A Psychiatrist's Reflections on Healing in a Changing World (Riverhead/Penguin).  She is Historian for the School of Medicine at the University of New Mexico, and a Doctors for America member since 2008.

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