CHICAGO (AP) â€” The American Medical Association is asking doctors to become salespeople to boost its flagging membership.
While it remains America's largest group of doctors, only about a third of the nation's 800,000-plus physicians, medical residents and medical students belong.
Membership, now at 293,695, is down about 2 percent from the end of last year, Dr. E. Ratcliffe Anderson Jr., the AMA's executive vice president, told delegates attending the first day of the annual AMA meeting Sunday.
Membership woes are ``the thousand-pound gorilla in the living room,'' said Anderson, who urged doctors to pressure their colleagues and recruit non-members.
He noted that physicians tend to see themselves as healers rather than salespeople, but said ``that's not enough anymore.''
``Membership must be a prime consideration in everything the AMA does,'' the group's board of trustees said in a report prepared for the meeting.
The declining membership has been attributed largely to doctors' reluctance to pay the relatively high association fee for what they get in return â€” a lobbying voice in Washington. The association also was seen as losing some of its moral authority after it agreed in 1997 to endorse Sunbeam products without testing them. Reneging on the deal in the face of an outcry from members cost the AMA $9.9 million.
In 1998, the AMA lost 2,700 members â€” $2.6 million in membership dues.
While recent recruitment efforts have focused on young doctors, measures that would give medical students and residents more representation and power within the AMA prompted more than an hour of heated debate Sunday.
Some members complained that giving medical students the same clout within the AMA as seasoned doctors would be unfair to those who spent years working their way up the ranks.
One proposal presented during a committee debate would give free AMA membership to graduating medical students during their postgraduate training. Annual dues are $420, though newer doctors get discounts and residents pay $45 yearly.
Dr. Thomas Cooper, a California pathologist, criticized the proposal, telling the committee: ``If you want to play, you need to pay.''
Declining revenue from member dues forced the AMA in March to cut about 80 jobs, or nearly 7 percent of its work force.
The committee can take the proposals under advisement, recommend further review, or refer them to the full 550-member House of Delegates for a vote later this week. The meeting runs through Thursday.
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