Update (June 3, 2021): Today, JAMA's interim editor-in-chief, Phil Fontanarosa, and colleagues published an editorial in the journal outlining “a range of editorial priorities and approaches to strive for and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Howard Bauchner, the editor-in-chief of JAMA for the last 11 years, will resign at the end of June following backlash over comments made by another journal editor about racism in healthcare. JAMA’s executive editor Phil Fontanarosa will serve as interim editor-in-chief.
Bauchner’s departure comes months after two editors of JAMA journals suggested in a podcast that structural racism does not exist in medicine. The two white doctors—Ed Livingston, the deputy editor of clinical content at JAMA, and Mitchell Katz, an editor at JAMA Internal Medicine—denied that they themselves were racist, suggested the word racism “might be hurting us,” and questioned whether racism could exist when it is “illegal,” a full transcript of the podcast reveals. Neither Livingston nor Katz are experts in structural racism. A since-deleted tweet advertising the podcast and shared by Buzzfeed also read, in part, “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in healthcare?”
“I remain profoundly disappointed in myself for the lapses that led to the publishing of the tweet and podcast. Although I did not write or even see the tweet, or create the podcast, as editor-in-chief, I am ultimately responsible for them,” Bauchner says in a statement released by the American Medical Association (AMA), which publishes more than 100 JAMA journals.
The committee to find Bauchner’s replacement will be led by Otis Brawley, an oncologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University who studies racial, economic, and social disparities in medicine.
Bauchner’s departure is the latest in a series of actions taken by the journal and its publisher. Shortly after the podcast aired, Livingston resigned and Bauchner was placed on administrative leave in March pending the outcome of an investigation by an outside counsel. The AMA’s statement made no mention of the counsel’s progress, and The New York Times reports that JAMA declined to comment. The AMA also announced a three-year plan to address racial justice and advance health equity.
“This is a real moment for JAMA and the AMA to recreate themselves from a founding history that was based in segregation and racism to one that is now based on racial equity,” Stella Safo, a physician at the Icahn School of Medicine, tells the Times. After the podcast, Safo and other colleagues released a petition calling on JAMA to diversify its staff and hold a series of town hall conversations about racism in medicine. The petition has since garnered more than 9,000 signatures. “I think that this is a step in the right direction,” Safo adds.
Despite the changes announced by JAMA and the AMA, not everyone feels they are enough. In the immediate aftermath of the podcast, at least 10 researchers publicly announced their intention to boycott JAMA journals, while others pulled existing papers under review for publication, Buzzfeed reports. Raymond Givens, a cardiologist who had previously raised concerns over the diversity of JAMA’s editorial staff directly to Bauchner, told STAT in April that there was still much to do to improve the situation. “This deficit in diversity means there are tremendous blind spots. They don’t even know what they don’t know.”
Fatima Cody Stanford, the head of a minority affairs group at the AMA, tells the Associated Press that while the AMA was making strides to address health disparities in medicine, the tweet and podcast still “felt like a dagger to the heart to those of us who’ve worked so hard to get that work done.”