Lonnie Robert Bristow
First African American President of the American Medical Association
Born in 1930 in New York City, Dr. Lonnie Robert Bristow was a devoted medical practitioner profoundly concerned with human dignity, patient care, affordable health care for all Americans, and diversity in the nation's medical academies.
Dr. Lonnie Robert Bristow has become widely known as the first African American president of the American Medical Association (AMA) and was also the first African American president of the American Society of Internal Medicine in 1981. He was the first African American member and first African American chair of the AMA's Board of Trustees.
Dr. Bristow was the son of a Baptist minister and a nurse. He grew up in Harlem and his mother often included him in her activities as a student nurse. His early experiences around Sydenham Hospital, where his mother worked along side Jewish, African American and White doctors and nurses, inspired Bristow to pursue medicine and, later, also affected his attitude about multiculturalism and the importance of being well qualified professionally regardless of race.
Dr. Bristow studied at Morehouse College in Atlanta from 1947 to 1949, and was an acquaintance of Martin Luther King Jr. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1949 to 1950, and then became a Naval Reservist from 1950 to 1956. Bristow entered the City College of New York where, despite success as a quarterback, he graduated with a B.S in 1953 and entered New York University College of Medicine.
He earned an M.D. in 1957 and worked a rotating internship at San Francisco City and County Hospital. From 1959 to 1960, Bristow served other residencies in the Veteran's Administration Hospital in San Francisco and later at Francis Delafield Hospital (Columbia University Service) in New York City and at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in the Bronx in 1961.
Dr. Bristow's primary concern was for improving the quality of life for his patients. He was also on the staff of Brookside Hospital in San Pablo. In addition to a successful medical practice as an internist, Bristow has been highly active in medical societies which brought him wide recognition.
Bristow's affiliation with the AMA began when he joined the association in California after he completed his internship in 1958 - ten years before the AMA passed a non-discrimination policy. This was as important for Bristow as it was for the AMA. The AMA's discriminatory practices had inspired a group of African American physicians to found their own medical organization in 1895, the National Medical Association.
For 20 years Bristow held a series of posts and served in the AMA and, in 1993 he achieved another first when he was elected chairman of the board. In 1985, he was the first African American elected to the Board of Trustees where he became a leader in the AMA's position for health care reform.
He has used his position as president and chief spokesman of the 300,000-member organization America's largest leading organization for doctors to inspire African American medical students.
Dr. Bristow has been active in many other medical organization such as the Sickle Cell Committee for the California Department of Health, the National Council of Health Care Technology, Health Care Financing Administration and many, many others.
Widely honored for his work, Dr. Bristow's honors also include honorary Doctor of Science degrees from the Morehouse College School of Medicine, Wayne State University School of Medicine, and the City College of the City University of New York.