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Physician brings LGBTQ advocacy to the AMA
by Matt Simonette
2020-03-04

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For Milwaukee-based anesthesiologist Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, M.D., becoming the chair of the board of trustees of the Chicago-based American Medical Association ( AMA ) stemmed from a deep commitment to health policy.

"When I'm working in the operating room, taking care of patients, I love that," said Ehrenfeld, who is openly gay. "There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a patient walk out of the hospital…able to go on and lead a healthy and productive life. But at the same time, that is a one-patient-at-a-time sort of deal—when I think about the influence that policy decisions have on impacting health, at a state and federal level, it's extraordinary."

Ehrenfield moved to Milwaukee in 2019, after several years at Vanderbilt University. He is currently senior associate dean at the Medical College of Wisconsin School of Medicine as well as director of the school's Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin endowment.

He was first elected as an AMA officer's position in 2014 and was re-elected in 2018. Ehrenfeld is the organization's first openly LGBT officer as well as its first LGBT board of trustees chair. He called his service "an extraordinary privilege."

"There is stuff happening every day," said Ehrenfeld of the board chair position; his one-year term began in mid-2019. "The challenges that we are up against as an organization, a profession and, frankly, as a nation just don't go away. People asked me when I was elected what I wanted to do in my year as chair. There are things I do care deeply about, but what's happened this year and what will happen through the remainder [of his term] are mostly out of my control."

Among those factors, he added, were "the whims of what's happening in Washington" and the Coronavirus outbreak. "We've been deeply engaged with leadership around the country [about the outbreak] in making sure that we're adequately positioned to respond. Those are things you can't predict."

Ehrenfeld has long been active in advocating for LGBT causes, especially as they relate to health policy. He has chaired both the Massachusetts Committee on LGBT Health and the Massachusetts General Hospital LGBT Employee Resource Group, and was a member of both the board committee on quality at Fenway Community Health Center, and the Association of American Medical Colleges' LGBTI liaison group.

He is also a combat veteran and has been a rights-advocate within the military as well. In early 2019, Ehrenfeld testified before the U.S. House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee alongside five transgender service-members against the transgender military ban.

"It's very personal to me—I have so many friends who happen to be transgender, who are serving in the military who are subject to this incredibly problematic, discriminatory policy," he explained. "As somebody who served under Don't Ask Don't Tell, I know the pain of having to be dishonest in serving in an organization that you love dearly."

Ehrenfeld's term as AMA board of trustees chair ends this summer. He noted that the organization's work has rarely been more important than now, when various authorities have cast skepticism on empirical evidence and hard science.

"We need to play our role as a leading voice in medicine, particularly when it comes to our ability to provide a window into evidence and science for practitioners around the country," he added.


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