Minority politics in the house of medicine: the physicians forum and the New York County Medical Society, 1938-1965

J Public Health Policy. 1999;20(3):282-309.


The late 1930s challenged laissez-faire medicine. Recognition of serious inadequacies in the distribution of medical services stirred activists who questioned fee-for-service delivery and posited a national health program, including health insurance. The AMA and its components--state and county medical societies--counterattacked, mobilizing money and their powerful political arsenal to fight government intrusion in private medicine. The Physicians Forum, initially under the leadership of Ernst P. Boas, emerged as a formidable element within the New York County Medical Society (the largest component of the AMA). The Forum provoked discussion of medical indigence and economics, upsetting the Society leadership with independent candidate slates and telling the public that doctors spoke with more than one voice. For 25 years, the Physicians Forum altered the dynamics of the Medical Society of the County of New York. While the Forum effort to institutionalize minority opinion in the councils of medicine failed, the interchange between County regulars and Forum insurgents broadened the medical reform agenda and moved the County Society in directions that historically it had avoided. Although medical economics formed an unbridgeable chasm between County regulars and rebels, Forum members demonstrated that medicine was not monolithic, that "majority opinion [was not] ... unanimous opinion," and that doctors must speak to issues of medical and social policy.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • American Medical Association / history*
  • Delivery of Health Care / history*
  • Delivery of Health Care / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Health Care Reform / history*
  • Health Care Reform / legislation & jurisprudence
  • History, 20th Century
  • New York
  • Politics*
  • United States