Shame on the AMA!

Ed Uthman, MD

Diplomate, American Board of Pathology

16 Jan 1999

Well, the US presidential impeachment issue has finally intersected the world of laboratory medicine, and I'm not talking about the forensic DNA lab either.

Clinical pathologist George Lundberg, MD, was fired as editor of JAMA on 15 January, because he ran a research article that disclosed that a majority of the American college students sampled in the study do not define oral-genital contact as "sex." His overseers at the American Medical Association felt that the article's appearance in the AMA's -- pardon the expression -- official organ constituted an "inappropriate" (there's that luscious word again) interjection of the nominally apolitical medical organization into a hot partisan issue. Thus, taking his place on the pile of ruined reputations and derailed careers surrounding our (no pun intended) head of state is one of the most distinguished members of our medical specialty.

I met Dr. Lundberg once, back about '82 or '83, in (there's that state again) Arkansas. He had come to Little Rock to visit one of my faculty colleagues who was a friend of his. Lundberg was soft-spoken, amiable, and unpretentious. He had built his academic reputation on the study of lab utilization, one of the first to do so. He was not so interested in the minutiae of lab techniques as he was in determining whether certain uses of the lab actually do anyone any good. As I read more of his work, it struck me that he personified the exact rationale for having an MD associated with the clinical lab in the first place. Whereas most of the clinical pathologists I had encountered in my training occupied their time poaching on the territory of medical technologists and PhDs, Lundberg was a true laboratory physician, applying his hippocratic background to determine how to use the lab in service of the patients' best interests. He had that enviable quality of always being able to ask the right questions and ferret out the right answers without getting distracted by the incessant din of the punctilious exponents of subtle detail (an important trait of effective leaders in general).

I have no idea how Lundberg got the job as editor of JAMA, which is run by an outfit that caters principally to primary care doctors. He must have really snowed them on the interview. Once he got there, however, he turned JAMA into a premiere bulletin board of original and provocative ideas. Any randomly selected issue of the Journal was likely to contain something intriguing to almost anyone with even a peripheral interest in health. Lundberg's wide-ranging curiosity and understanding spanned the full breadth of the medical field and even ventured into areas once considered beneath the dignity of proper academicians. Even if the AMA ever lowers itself to hire another pathologist to run its magazine, we shall not see the likes of George Lundberg again. Shame on the AMA for firing such a gifted and innovative polymath.