Ready to make a difference, dermatologist takes the helm as AMA president


Jack S. Resneck Jr., MD, is not usually the loudest voice in the room, but when he speaks, his words carry a heft and an appeal that is straightforward and undeniable.

That was on full display as the 51-year-old vice chair of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, addressed his colleagues in his inaugural speech as president of the American Medical Association (AMA) on June 14.

Jack S. Resneck Jr., MD, the 177th president of the American Medical Association.. Courtesy Ted Grudzinski

Jack S. Resneck Jr., the 177th president of the American Medical Association.

He did not mince words when it came to describing the current landscape. “I doubt you imagined a divided country such as this, where physicians and public health officials often face antiscience aggression and threats of violence simply for doing our jobs,” he said. “You probably didn’t plan on insurers questioning every prescription and every procedure you asked for. Or government criminalizing routine and vital health care, enshrining discrimination against our LGBTQ patients or attacking a woman’s right to control health care decisions that should only be between her and her doctor,” said Dr. Resneck.

But, he added, all was not lost. “While it would be easy to get overwhelmed by despair as I begin this new role, I’ve never been prouder of my physician colleagues,” he said.

Dr. Resneck is the first dermatologist to lead the 175-year-old organization since 1925. Colleagues in the field speak of pride in having one of their own at the top, and they are even more complimentary about his depth of health policy knowledge, his communications skills, and his ability to find common ground.

“He loves looking at both sides,” said Marta J. Van Beek, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. “That’s how he builds consensus,” said Dr. Van Beek, who has known Dr. Resneck for more than 20 years, since they were chief dermatology residents – she at Iowa and he at UCSF.

Marta J. Van Beek, MD, MPH, clinical professor of dermatology, University of Iowa, Iowa City

Dr. Marta J. Van Beek

Dr. Van Beek and Dr. Resneck have a deep interest in health policy and have long worked side by side on committees at both the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the AMA. She looks back to the lead-up period before the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act as one of Dr. Resneck’s shining moments. “Those were contentious times in medicine,” Dr. Van Beek told this news organization. Dr. Resneck, as chair of the AAD’s Council on Government Affairs and Health Policy from 2008 to 2012, rallied the board to agree on a set of health care reform principles, she noted.

Dr. Resneck is “really very unifying,” agreed Bruce A. Brod, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Dr. Brod has worked with Dr. Resneck for 2 decades on various committees at the AAD. They’ve also known each other through the AMA House of Delegates.

Now Dr. Brod is following in Dr. Resneck’s footsteps as chair of the AAD’s Council on Government Affairs and Health Policy. “Big shoes to fill there,” said Dr. Brod. He said he’s been inspired by Dr. Resneck’s always-positive approach, punctuated by his ever-constant belief that “there’s a lot more common ground than meets the eye here.”

“I really think he’s the perfect leader at this time,” he said.

Outgoing AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD, said that Dr. Resneck’s long experience as a teacher and a mentor, and what he describes as a “good, active listening talent,” have been integral to his success as a leader. He expects those qualities to make Dr. Resneck an effective advocate for all of medicine. “He identifies the problem, he identifies the gap, and then he establishes a workable, executable plan to close that gap,” Dr. Harmon told this news organization, adding that he’s seen this at work in AMA board meetings.

Dr. Gerald E. Harmon, outgoing president of the AMA

Dr. Gerald E. Harmon

“He was a good teacher for me,” said Dr. Harmon, who had known Dr. Resneck through the House of Delegates and various AMA councils for at least a decade before they both joined the AMA board. “He can be such a mentor to all age groups, including senior physicians like myself,” said Dr. Harmon.

Dr. Resneck is excited, but also measured. “This has been a tumultuous couple of years in the country with the pandemic and with the fractured politics,” he said in an interview. Thinking about taking on the AMA presidency, he said, “I’ve had some moments of trepidation. I wanted to be sure that I was going to be able to make a difference.”


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