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“Complexity junkie” steers the AMA to new heights By Scott Warner

In his long career, James Madara, MD, has cared for patients, taught physicians, overseen medical campuses, and is now enjoying the opportunity to make an impact on the nation’s health care delivery system. For the last three years, this former dean of the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine has stewarded the American Medical Association (AMA) through some of the most challenging and complex times physicians have ever faced.

He recalls meeting with the AMA search committee in early 2011 when he applied for the top job as executive vice president and CEO. “I told them I was a bit of a complexity junkie—that’s a big attraction for me,” he says. Something must have clicked, because the committee picked this Chicago Medical Society member to lead the iconic physician organization.

“Whether a physician is an orthopedic surgeon, or a psychiatrist, physicians have a shared focus, the patient. And that is why the AMA focuses on this commonality of the doctor-patient relationship,” Dr. Madara says. He spoke about the AMA’s new three-pronged strategic vision that aims at strengthening this relationship:

Improving health outcomes. The AMA is committing its resources, expertise and outreach to prevent heart disease and type 2 diabetes and to improve outcomes for those suffering from these diseases.

Accelerating change in medical education. The gap between how physicians are being trained and the future needs of our health care system continues to widen. The AMA will work to bridge this gap by aligning physician training and education with the evolving health care system.

Enhancing physicians’ professional satisfaction and practice sustainability. Dr. Madara quotes an AMA-sponsored study from the RAND Corporation indicating that being able to provide high-quality care to their patients is the primary reason for job satisfaction among physicians. But, obstacles to doing so are a key source of stress in the profession. Dr. Madara says the AMA’s goal is to enhance practice sustainability and professional satisfaction through effective care delivery and payment models.

A noted academic pathologist and an authority on epithelial cell biology and gastrointestinal disease, Dr. Madara has served as dean of the Pritzker School of Medicine and as dean of the Biological Sciences Division at the University of Chicago, and as CEO of the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he oversaw the renewal of the institution’s biomedical campus. He has served as the chair of pathology and laboratory medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta; and as director of the Harvard Digestive Diseases Center. “I was the youngest person there,” he recalls, “and I dealt with lots of senior physicians, who didn’t report to me! There was so much complexity, and I truly enjoyed it.”

Immediately prior to arriving at the AMA, Dr. Madara served as senior advisor with Leavitt Partners, a health care consulting firm started by former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt. He worked with Mr. Levitt in developing health care policy.

Dr. Madara says involvement in organized medicine is crucial for physicians. And he values his membership in ISMS and CMS, “because resolutions that shape health care legislation start at the grassroots—moving up from the county, to the state societies, and to the AMA.”

Dr. Madara’s Career Highlights

Dr. Madara earned his medical degree from Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia, and completed his post-doctoral research training in cell biology at Harvard Medical School, where he became a tenured professor. He has published more than 200 original papers and chapters, which have garnered both national and international awards, and served as president of the American Board of Pathology and editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Pathology. He and his wife, Vicki, an architect, live in Hyde Park. They are the parents of two adult children, Max and Alexis.

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