Leaders in Medical Education

Dr. Robert Wah, President of the American Medical Association

Thasin Jaigirdar
Published on Dec 16, 2014. Updated on Invalid date.

Dr. Robert Wah is a reproductive endocrinologist and an OB/GYN. He currently serves as President of the American Medical Association. He practices and teaches medicine at the National Institutes of Health and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He has also served more than 23 years on active duty as captain in the US Navy Marines Corps. He is also widely known for his involvement in Health Information Technology having served as the first deputy national coordinator in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. He is also Chief Medical Officer for Computer Science Corporation and has previously served as associate chief information officer for the Military Health Systems in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

How did you decide on a career in Medicine?

I have always been interested in science and was exposed to healthcare in general from an early age because my father was a dentist. I worked in his office and saw how he took care of his patients. Medicine was a way for me to bring together my interest in science and passion for helping people.

What made you pick OB/GYN as a specialty?

OB/GYN was one of my earliest rotations as a medical student. I enjoyed the practice, the work, the patient population, the diversity of being able to do primary care and surgery, and delivering babies. During my time in medical school, the chairman of OB/GYN was Leon Speroff, a well-known author in endocrinology. As a medical student, I had the chance to work directly with Dr. Speroff while seeing patients with him in the clinic. I enjoyed learning first-hand the different types of problems patients were facing and I wanted to help. Reproductive Endocrinology also allowed me to use my background in chemistry to work on problems in the area of hormonal disorders and endocrinology. When in-vitro fertilization was developed, the specialty enabled me to apply my scientific knowledge to a new successful technology.

What do you think are the toughest challenges facing physicians today?

Physicians are challenged by the number of external forces in medicine today. By that I mean, the many regulatory, reporting and compliance requirements as well as the new market forces that are impacting the way we practice medicine. With all this change swirling around us, some see a challenge, I prefer to see change as an opportunity and I always seek to maximize opportunities.

What are two or three changes you would like to see in healthcare in the United States going forward?

I would like to see a transformation in the way physicians are trained, improved health outcomes for patients, and increased physician satisfaction and practice sustainability. These are goals that will change and greatly improve our nation’s health care system, and I am proud to say that the AMA is making great progress in all three areas.

We need to continually look at how we see the future of medicine. In that respect, making sure we continue to have outstanding medical education for the succeeding generations of physicians. To address this need, the AMA launched its Accelerating Change in Medical Education initiative, providing $1 million grants to 11 medical schools across the country. These grants support the development and implementation of innovative models for how medical students are trained and evaluated to ensure they enter the field of medicine prepared for the current and future health care landscape.

Given the projection that our country will need more physicians due to the increasing number of Americans with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, we need to also increase the number of graduate medical education slots to meet this demand.

In that same vein, it’s also important to seek more payers to support graduate medical education positions. The system needs to start looking at commercial, private and government sources as possible places for funding graduate Medical Education positions.

How has your past experience, spending more than 23 years on active duty in the US Navy Medical Corps, shaped you as a person and do you have any stories to share about your time serving the United States?

From my experience, military medicine provides some of the finest care I have ever seen as well as some of the best training for both medical students and residents. I had the opportunity to serve at many medical schools including Harvard Medical School, UC-San Diego’s Medical School and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

One of the many things that I learned while serving in the military was the power of large organizations that are very mission-focused. I also saw the unlimited potential made possible by proper training and preparation. The fact that the military can recruit young 18-20 year olds fresh out of high school and train them to do extraordinary things in both health care and non-healthcare positions was a big life lesson for me. I saw this first-hand in many of the corpsmen who worked with me during my time in the military.

The military also taught me how to navigate and steer a large organization. That is a very valuable skillset that can be used in both the public and private sector. Knowing how to get things done, who to go to and what are the various levers required to make change happen is important.

Finally, the greatest reward of my time in the military was being able to serve my country—knowing that I am contributing to the safety and well-being of not only my fellow American citizens but also my comrades-in-arms.