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Personalities: Leader of the Docs

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Nancy H. Nielsen, MD, PhD, has been a voice for healthcare policy issues throughout her medical career, which includes 23 years of medical practice in Buffalo, NY. Nielsen began her leadership role with the American Medical Association in 2000, and served four consecutive terms as speaker of the House of Delegates, the AMA policy-setting body. In June, Nielsen was inaugurated as just the second woman president in the AMA's history.

On her goals as AMA president: The organization clearly wants to be sure that we keep the issue of the uninsured front and center. We are also very committed to medical liability reform and Medicare payment reform. My own background is I've been very active in the quality arena both locally, statewide, and nationally. I'm also very passionate about the issue of the un-insured, because at one point I was uninsured.

On how the AMA's role has evolved: Our profession throughout the ages has been focused on the doctor-patient relationship, and that has not changed. What has changed is the interaction with physicians and patients, because there are now other people who are involved in that equation, such as health plans and the government. One of the things I talked about in my inaugural address is building bridges where we can with the folks who have not been our traditional bedfellows.

On being the AMA's second woman president: I think the real significance was the first, because once the glass ceiling is broken for any organization, then it's easier for others to follow. So I think 10 years ago when Dr. Nancy Dickey became president, that was the pivotal moment.

On healthcare's most critical issues: We need to be concerned about improving quality and decreasing costs, and we've got to get to a solution for those people who don't have health insurance. But the final thing this country is really coming to grips with is some of the lifestyle choices that people are making that are driving up costs. This is not something just for people in healthcare to be concerned about—this is a societal issue. This is truly something that is going to take much more than doctors—society has to come to grips with health, why we eat the way we eat, why we don't exercise more, and the implications of that.

Ben Cole

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