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Academic Medicine Must Lead Change at This “Moment of Truth”

Philadelphia, Pa., November 2, 2013—In his address at the 124th annual meeting of the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., urged leaders of the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals to “embrace responsibility for transforming our health care system.” 

Noting that this is a “moment of truth” for the nation, the academic medicine community, and the profession of medicine, Kirch told more than 4,500 meeting attendees that the choices we make, or do not make, at these critical points shape “not only our personal futures and the future of our organizations, but even the future of our nation.”

The current atmosphere in Washington compounds the challenges facing academic medicine, which include rising levels of medical student debt, federal funding cuts to medical research, and too few federally funded residency training slots to address the nation’s looming physician shortage, according to Kirch. “Yet our national leadership seems bent on avoiding decisive action at this moment of truth,” he said, pointing to the shutdown and the efforts to defund or delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act. “Congress once again has ‘kicked the can down the road’ and avoided its moment of truth.”

Kirch said physicians also are inclined to “point a finger at everyone” but themselves. Citing a recent survey published in JAMA about responsibility for health care costs, Kirch said only 36 percent of physicians thought they had major responsibility to reduce health care costs and 70 percent were not enthusiastic about eliminating payments that reward volume, not health outcomes. “How can we be part of the solution if we do not believe that we are major contributors to the problem?” Kirch asked.

“Faced with problems like this, it is all too tempting to look to others to somehow fix them,” he said. “But now we know how unrealistic it is to believe that Congress will solve these problems. In the face of that, I firmly believe that you and I bear the responsibility to take decisive action. This is our profession’s moment of truth.”

Describing how medical schools and teaching hospitals have provided “spectacular care to patients in desperate need” during recent tragedies and disasters, Kirch said he also sees bold, positive decisions occurring every day in the face of more routine moments of truth in academic medicine. Specifically, he noted the dramatic changes under way in how future physicians are being selected, from the new MCAT® exam in 2015, to innovative, more holistic interview processes; how doctors are being trained to work in interprofessional teams; and how new models for providing and reimbursing care will improve the health of patients and potentially, the economy.  He also noted that despite funding obstacles, scientists are discovering new treatments that provide hope for patients, and “we are improving the quality and safety of medical care by identifying and researching best practices and teaching them to the next generation."

“Change is not just possible,” Kirch said. “It is happening now—driven by all of you in this room. . . . We all have a choice in these moments of truth. We can sit on the sidelines, or we can embrace responsibility for transforming our health care system. . . .We are in a unique position to show leadership in academic medicine. This is a moment of truth our nation desperately needs us to seize.”

View the full text of the annual meeting address, “Our Moment of Truth .”


The Association of American Medical Colleges is a not-for-profit association dedicated to transforming health care through innovative medical education, cutting-edge patient care, and groundbreaking medical research. Its members comprise all 147 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools; nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, including 51 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and more than 80 academic societies. Through these institutions and organizations, the AAMC serves the leaders of America’s medical schools and teaching hospitals and their nearly 160,000 faculty members, 83,000 medical students, and 115,000 resident physicians. Additional information about the AAMC and its member medical schools and teaching hospitals is available at


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AAMC President's Address 2013

AAMC Chair's Address 2013