Dr. Patrice Harris

Dr. Harris testifies before Congress
Dr. Harris testifies before Congress.

Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, is a psychiatrist from Atlanta, who served as the president of the American Medical Association in 2020, and the organization’s first African American woman to hold this position. Dr. Harris has diverse experience as a private practicing physician, county public health director, and patient advocate.

As President, she led the AMA’s prioritization of more inclusive care during the COVID crisis and the connection between police violence and social determinants of health during the summer of 2020.

Growing up in Bluefield, W. Va., Dr. Harris dreamt of entering medicine at a time when few women of color were encouraged to become physicians. “I’ve wanted to be a physician since I was in eighth grade,” Dr. Harris said in a recent interview. “I planned to be a pediatrician, because I’ve always liked working with children. I know my dreams. And I knew where I wanted to be in the end.”

The daughter of a railroad worker and a junior high school math teacher, Harris did not set out to become the public face (and first Black female president) of a 172-year-old medical organization that represents more than 200,000 physicians and medical students nationwide. But she says, “I knew I wanted to have an impact. And when an opportunity came, I said yes. I worked up through leadership at the American Psychiatric Association, and then I was appointed as an APA delegate to the AMA and worked my way up to leadership there.”

As Immediate Past President, Dr. Harris currently spearheads the AMA’s efforts to end the opioid epidemic and has been chair of the AMA Opioid Task Force since its inception in 2014. Having served on the AMA Board of Trustees since 2011, and as chair from 2016 to 2017, she has long been a mentor, a role model and an advocate. Beyond the AMA she has held positions of leadership with the American Psychiatric Association, the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association, the Medical Association of Georgia, and The Big Cities Health Coalition, where she chaired this forum composed of leaders from America’s largest metropolitan health departments.

Dr. Harris spent her formative years at West Virginia University, earning a BA in psychology, an MA in counseling psychology and, ultimately, a medical degree in 1992.

It was during this time that her passion for helping children emerged, and she completed her psychiatry residency and fellowships in child and adolescent psychiatry and forensic psychiatry at the Emory University School of Medicine. A recognized expert in children’s mental health and childhood trauma, Dr. Harris has led efforts on both local and national levels to integrate public health, behavioral health and primary care services with supports for employment, housing and education.

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