It is time to strengthen the connections between patients, doctors and public health

Frederick M. Chen, MD, MPH, spent nearly 25 years in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington and more than a decade as Chief of Family Medicine at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, but after more than two years working in the COVID-19 Pandemic , Dr. Chen was ready for a change.

He found what he was looking for in the AMA.

Dr. Chen joined the AMA as its new Chief Health and Science Officer in July. He talks about what he sees as today’s most pressing public health challenges and what excites him about the next generation of doctors on a recent episode of “AMA Update.”

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Gun violence, climate change and COVID-19 continue to be top issues today, Dr. Chen said, but he says the most pressing concern is the relationship between physicians and public health.

“One of the things that excited me most about stepping into this role was the opportunity to help renew the public’s faith in science, medicine and public health,” he said. “We really need to double down and reinforce the idea that we physicians — and the AMA — are the trusted source of information. I think this is the best way we can support our public health infrastructure.”

Dr. Chen acknowledged that the public health response to a pandemic will always be challenging, and in the case of COVID-19, the response has become even more challenging as the issues have become politicized. But patients still trust doctors.

Doctors are the second most trusted profession in a 2021 Gallup survey. Still, doctors must work to continue to instill and maintain that trust, something Dr. Chen said ultimately comes down to building relationships and communication.

“Patients trust you as a doctor, they expect you to be an expert and knowledgeable,” he said. “And they expect the answers that you have to have a solid foundation in science and medicine. Building that trust with patients is at the heart of what we do.”

He sees his new role with the AMA as helping doctors do just that, especially as the country continues to deal with COVID-19 and its effects.

“People are tired and I think we have to recognize that,” he said. “Nationally and globally, COVID is not over. We are not done with him and it is not done with us. We must continue to celebrate doctors and health workers for the work they have done and how much we have relied on them and continue to rely on them.”

In Dr. Chen’s eyes, this celebration also embodies the AMA’s mission to pursue the improvement of public health. This means helping physicians access up-to-date educational information and public health connections, while making national advocacy efforts to help physicians practice better.

“These are the real key pieces as we continue to recover from the pandemic,” he said.

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While Dr. Chen is concerned about doctors and public health, he is excited about the future doctors who grew up and went to medical school during this pivotal moment in American history. They teach about the social determinants of health, and many are driven by health equity issues.

All of these terms are a common language for the next generation of doctors, he said.

“For them to come into medicine with a clear understanding of the connection between individual patient care and what affects their communities, the activism and advocacy that is part of that, that’s really encouraging and it’s very exciting,” said Dr. Chen.

“AMA Update” covers health care topics affecting the lives of doctors and patients. Hear from physicians and experts on public health, advocacy issues, scope of practice and more – because it’s who’s talking that matters most. You can watch each episode by subscribing to the AMA YouTube channel or the audio-only podcast version, which also includes educational presentations and in-depth discussions.

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