February 25, 2024

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New American Medical Association president says “we have a health care system in crisis”

Washington — Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld — an anesthesiologist, Navy veteran and father — made history this week when he was inaugurated as the new president of the American Medical Association, becoming the first openly gay leader of the nation’s largest group of physicians and medical students.

“So after three years of experiencing so much stress, with COVID, you know, we’ve had a ‘twindemic:’ a pandemic of the disease, plus a pandemic of misinformation, and bad information,” Ehrenfeld told CBS News of some of the top issues facing physicians today. 

Facing doctor burnout, soaring medical costs and an influx of legislation targeting the LGBTQ community, Ehrenfeld is taking over at a difficult time.

“We have a health care system in crisis, I hear that from my physician colleagues,” Ehrenfeld said.

“Today, there are so many backseat drivers telling us what to do…You know, we’ve got regulators that are discarding science and telling physicians how to practice medicine, putting barriers in care,” he explains.

He says those barriers include what he considers the criminalization of health care.

“Well, in at least six states, now, if I practice evidence-based care, I can go to jail,” Ehrenfeld said. “It’s frightening. When a patient shows up in my office, if I do the right thing from a scientific, from an ethical perspective, to know that that care is no longer legal, criminalized and could wind me in prison.”

He says that criminalization has occurred in areas including gender-affirming care and abortion services.

“Health care has been a target as of late in a way that has been deeply damaging, not just to the health of patients who are seeking specific services, but to every American,” Ehrenfeld said. “So we see patients who no longer can find an OB-GYN because OB-GYNs are leaving a state where they have criminalized certain aspects of care. That affects all women in the state.”

Ehrenfeld hopes to improve health equity for all underserved groups and be a role model for any young doctors, as well as for his own sons.

“I hope that they learn that they shouldn’t let anything get in their way of following their dreams,” Ehrenfeld said. “And for anybody who’s different out there, I hope that they see themselves, my children, the example that I’ve set, that they shouldn’t let anybody tell them that they can’t just because of who they are.”