The AAMC Board of Directors unanimously approved the decision to rename the Flexner Award for Distinguished Service in Medical Education as the AAMC Award for Excellence in Medical Education. The change was announced by AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD, during his address at the association’s annual meeting on Nov. 17, 2020.
Why is the AAMC renaming the Flexner Award now?
The AAMC is renaming the Flexner Award for Distinguished Service in Medical Education as a demonstration of the association’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization, as detailed in our Framework for Addressing and Eliminating Racism at the AAMC, in Academic Medicine, and Beyond.
Flexner is viewed by many as the “father of modern medical education.” What is the rationale for this decision?
The positive impact of the Flexner report on modern medical education is widely known. The report, published in 1910, called for major reforms to medical education, including higher admission standards, adherence to the scientific method in research and practice, and oversight by state licensure boards. The AAMC’s decision is not intended to diminish the many positive contributions of this work and its continued influence on medical education.
But we must also all become aware of the significant adverse impact of Flexner’s racist and sexist ideas (cited in chapters XIII and XIV) that perpetuated his recommendations that would negatively impact the training of African American/Black and women physicians and ultimately have an adverse impact on the health of the African American/Black community and deny women access to women physicians. For example, Flexner asserted that African American/Black individuals were better suited to serve as sanitarians rather than surgeons and should assume the role of protecting White people from disease.
Dedicating a namesake award to Abraham Flexner is antithetical to our shared vision of the AAMC and academic medicine institutions as diverse, equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist organizations.
What is the evidence of Flexner’s views about women and Black persons in medical education?
Historically, the recommendations in Flexner’s 1910 report, Medical Education in the United States and Canada, have been associated with instituting more rigor in medical education. However, the Flexner report also contained gender-oppressive and racist ideas. The publishing of the Flexner report influenced the closure of five out of seven historically Black medical schools,1 and the share of women physicians fell from 6% to 4% nationwide.2 Flexner's racist and sexist views, pejorative language, and unsubstantiated statements negatively impacted physician training for women and African American/Black individuals.
The AAMC stands against racism and hate in all its forms, and we call on academic medicine to stand together on this issue.3
Why did the AAMC decide not to name the award for another deserving individual?
Recognizing the complexity and symbolic nature of awards, the AAMC decided to focus the name of the award on its long-standing commitment to advance medical education.
Will the AAMC consider changing the name of other awards?
Two years ago, the AAMC began the process of reevaluating the selection criteria of our presidential awards. We are committed to regular institutional self-reflection and will continue reevaluating both the selection criteria and names for all of our AAMC presidential awards.
When will the name change go into effect?
The change is effective for the 2021 awards cycle, for which we are now accepting nominations. For more information on nominating individuals who have had a demonstrable impact on advancing medical education, visit www.aamc.org/awards.
1 Starr P. The Social Transformation of American Medicine. New York, NY: Basic Books; 1982:123-126.