(Updated 8/23/2013) After a century of trying to eliminate the differences in health care for Mississippians based on race, income or social status, the Mississippi State Medical Association has named the first African American head physician in its history.
During an Aug. 17 meeting, the association elected Dr. Claude Brunson as president-elect. Brunson will officially take over the 5,000-member organization in 2014, 50 years after a time when the association was opposed to admitting privileges for Black physicians.
Brunson called the election by his colleagues a “distinct honor.”
“My assent to the presidency was no more eventful than the presidents who have preceded me certainly in the past several years,” Brunson told the AFRO in an e-mail. “It is a multi year process but I did not experience any more barriers than my majority colleagues. That is the refreshing part of this story and actually what makes it a story. This has happened in Mississippi while it still has not happened in most states.”
He is currently the senior advisor to the vice chancellor for external affairs and professor of anesthesiology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss.
According to the state association’s website, Brunson attended the University of Alabama School of Medicine in Birmingham, the School of Health Related Professions at the University of Mississippi Medical Center for graduate school and completed his residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
“He was elected because he’s the best person for the job,” Dr. Randy Easterling, Brunson’s colleague, said in a statement. “He wasn’t elected because he’s African-American.”
Dr. James Rish, the new MSMA president for this year, said in a statement that he was ecstatic about Brunson’s selection. “Claude will do a wonderful job as he already has as board chair. I have the utmost confidence in him.”
Brunson will assume his new leadership post in 2014, which marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer—a campaign launched in 1964 in Mississippi to get as many African-American voters as possible.
As one of the first three Black physicians granted full privileges in Jackson in 1965, Dr. Robert Smith told The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger that he was “very delighted and happy” to see Brunson selected as president-elect.
“His election shows we’re closer to guaranteeing the rights of all Americans to get health care,” Smith said.