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American Medical Association picks Kentucky doctor as its future president

The image shows Dr. Bruce Scott, a Louisville native and the new president-elect of the American Medical Association, smiling in a suit and tie.
Theodore Grudzinski
/
American Medical Association
Dr. Bruce Scott grew up in Louisville and built a career here as an otolaryngologist — also known as an ear, nose and throat doctor. He'll spend the next three years as a leading advocate for fellow physicians.

Physicians across the country met earlier this month and elected a Kentuckian to a three-year stint as one of the American Medical Association’s leaders.

Dr. Bruce Scott grew up in Louisville and built a career here as an otolaryngologist — also known as an ear, nose and throat doctor. Now, he’s the American Medical Association’s new president-elect.

Scott will spend the next year in that position before becoming the influential organization’s president in June 2024. After that, he’ll spend one more year as the group’s immediate past president. The trio of physicians who serve in those roles are the top spokespeople for the AMA, which counts over 270,000 doctors and medical students as members.

LPM News’ Morgan Watkins chatted with Scott about what it means to represent his home state as a major advocate for his profession and peers.

You just got selected as president-elect of the American Medical Association. Congratulations. What does it mean to you to represent Kentucky on a national stage?

Incredible opportunity. You know, Kentucky has a lot of challenges, and to have someone from Kentucky take the lead is something special, I think. And it's an incredible honor to be chosen as that individual. Sometimes you’ve got to step back and pinch yourself. I can tell you my mother's pretty proud. So is my family and so am I. And I hope to make all of Kentucky proud through these next three years.

What issues are top of mind for you in this new leadership role?

Physicians faced unheard of challenges during COVID-19. A number of physician practices closed. It has been 20-plus years since we've had an increase in pay from Medicare. And as a result, in inflation-adjusted dollars, physicians are earning 22% less in 2022 than they did in 2001.

It’s not just about money. It's about the barriers that the insurance companies put up between us and our patients.

I deal with this every day as a practicing physician, Morgan. I sit down with a patient or the parents of a child, and we develop a plan. I take a history. I do a physical examination. And then I have to get on the phone and justify it to an insurance person who many times can't even say the word otolaryngology. And yet they're going to tell me — without seeing the patient, without doing a physical examination, often without going to medical school — whether I should be allowed to do what the patient or the parents and I have decided is right. And that is a broken system.

Do these issues factor into the physician burnout that the American Medical Association is trying to deal with?

Absolutely. A significant percentage of physicians are getting tired of the whole process and getting burned out. A recent study showed that 60% of physicians are showing signs of burnout. And there was a terrible result of a study that showed that one out of five physicians are looking to change careers or retire within the next two years.

Politics obviously plays a role in health care policy. That's been particularly notable with the pandemic — also over the last few years, with abortion access and now gender-affirming medical care all being legislated in statehouses, including Kentucky's. What is your perspective on how to navigate that as one of the leading voices now in the AMA?

One of the most essential things in health care is the relationship between a patient and a physician. And government intrusion into that relationship is unacceptable.

Legislators in Frankfort, legislators in Washington, D.C., judges in Texas trying to step in between what a physician believes is right for their patient is wrong.

And this is not just a women's reproductive rights issue. You have to ask, “What's next?” What is the next thing that a judge in one circuit court is going to decide is a treatment that you don’t need?

Legislators trying to tell doctors what services we must provide to patients at certain periods of their life or certain services that we can't provide legally — and criminalizing medical care — is simply unacceptable to the American Medical Association.

Morgan is LPM's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.