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AMA: Membership Bounces Back Slightly


CHICAGO - After more than 10 years of a steadily dwindling membership in the American Medical Association, more doctors are once again joining.

CHICAGO, June 12 ? After more than 10 years of a steadily dwindling membership in the American Medical Association, more doctors are once again joining.

The rise in membership is not overwhelming, but Michael D. Maves, M.D., the AMA's executive vice president, considers any increase at all is a significant achievement in view of the long-standing downward trend.

According to Dr. Maves, the AMA signed up 3,300 more physicians in 2005 than it did in 2004, which is a 2.5% increase. The increase, he said, came in regular members plus physicians in their first or second year of practice and military physicians?all membership categories that reflect "real, practicing physicians."

There are more than 850,000 MDs in the United States and 56,000 osteopathic physicians. About a quarter of this total, including interns, residents, and retirees, who pay sharply reduced dues, are members.

The increase in members added ,000 to AMA coffers, but represented only a small fraction of the .1 million operating profit that Dr. Maves reported for 2005.

Regular members pay a year. Physicians in the second year of practice pay , military physicians pay , and first-year physicians pay .

Overall, AMA membership in 2005 was 244,005, a number that includes medical students, who pay a year to join the AMA and residents who pay year.

The AMA will not, however, release the number of practicing physicians who are members, but using the 3,300 figure to calculate the total membership the math works to were 132,000 members in the "real, practicing physicians" category in 2004 and 135,300 in 2005.

"The first year I was here, we lost 17,000 members, so this is definitely a victory," Dr. Maves said in an interview. But he added that the AMA has still not increased its market share which was 26% in 2004. That stands in stark contrast to the 80% membership market share claimed by national medical specialty societies.

Dr. Maves credits the AMA's new "branding" campaign that features window dressing such as an overhaul of the AMA logo and a switch in AMA colors from aqua and white to purple and white. He also credits 17 "member-connect" roundtables hosted by AMA leaders around the country, constant and persist polling of members about issues, as well as a full-court membership press in every state.

That state-by-state membership drive ran up against some resistance from state societies that worried about poaching from their rolls. Under pressure, the AMA Board of Trustees withdrew a report that proposed changes to its Partnership for Growth agreement with 39 states, which would have allowed the AMA to begin a direct marketing membership drive on Dec. 1.

That plan was viewed as a problem because it would cut into what has traditionally been considered a states-only member recruiting season that begins in September, said a spokesman for the Medical Society of the State of New York. "It used to be that the AMA didn't start its membership drive until March," he said. "Then it was moved up to February, which cut us back by a month. If the AMA started in December we would lose three months of recruiting time."

But it is difficult to argue with success, and the AMA leadership is unlikely to back away from its aggressive stance on membership recruiting.

Moreover, Dr. Maves and Gary C. Epstein, a marketing specialist with previous experience at Procter & Gamble, Kraft Foods, and Pepsi before joining the AMA as chief marketing officer in late 2004, contend that what has really breathed new life into the AMA is the organizations new focus on advocacy for issues that are hot button topics for practicing physicians.

One small indication that there may be substance behind this claim is a debate being played out this week in the House of Delegates, the AMA arm that sets the organization's policy. The medical student section?long considered the most liberal group within the conservative AMA House?asked the AMA to make comprehensive health system reform the AMA's number one priority.

If approved that would be a major policy change because for the past five years the AMA has named federal tort reform as the AMA's number one priority. During a committee meeting where the students' resolution was discussed, surgeon Duane M. Cady, M.D., of LaFayette, N.Y., who is chairman of the AMA's Board of Trustees, supported the students' proposal.

William Golden, M.D., a Little Rock, Ark., internist, said Dr. Cady's announcement reflects the influence of the AMA's new is patient focused branding campaign. "Many in the House feel that it is time the House took steps to make policy that backs up that focus."

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