Physician and educator
Born February 2, 1938, in Omaha, NE; married Jean Ware, November, 1963; children: twodaughters. Education: University of Mississippi, B.S.; M.D., 1964.
Addresses: Home —Tupelo, MS. Office —American Medical Association, 515 N. State St., Chicago, IL 60610-4325.
Began career as intern at the naval hospital in Charleston, South Carolina, 1964-65; served as General Medical Officer aboard the USS Frontier and at the Bremerton Naval Station near Seattle, Washington, 1964-68; private practice in Hammonville, Mississippi, 1968-1995; medical director, Maternal Child Health Program at Mississippi's South Washington County Hospital, 1970-84; president, Mississippi Affiliate of the American Heart Association, 1987-88; president, Mississippi State Medical Association, 1989-90; member, American Medical Association (AMA) Council on Legislation, 1990-99; director, Family Practice Residency Program at the North Mississippi Medical Center, Tupelo, Mississippi, 1995-2001; member, AMA Board of Trustees, 1996; returned to private practice, 2001; chairman, AMA Board of Trustees, 2002-03; president, AMA, 2005—.
Member: American Medical Association; Mississippi State Medical Association; Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians; American Academy of Family Physicians; Southern Medical Association; Ole Miss Alumni Association.
Awards: Runner-up, Good Housekeeping Family Doctor of the Year Award, 1977; John B. Howell Award for Mississippi Family Doctor of the Year, 1991; University of Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame Distinguished Alumni Award, 2002.
In 1968, J. Edward Hill began practicing medicine in the impoverished rural Mississippi Delta, using his family station wagon as an ambulance. During the next quarter of a century, he made a difference in the lives of those rural Mississippians, establishing a maternal child health program that cut the area's soaring fetal mortality rate. Now, as president of the American Medical Association (AMA), Hill has broadened his focus and is hoping to make a difference in the lives of every U.S. citizen. During his tenure as leader of the 250, 000-member AMA, the nation's most influential medical organization, Hill hopes to address the issue of un-insured Americans and develop a comprehensive health-education program for the nation's schools.
Hill was born on February 2, 1938, in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Depression-era parents. When he was four, the family relocated to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where his engineer father worked on Mississippi River projects with the Army Corps of Engineers. Growing up in the South marked Hill in some ways. "It was a very segregated South and I am sure that this evil, aberrant, and wrong social structure had a strong influence on me, " Hill told Lynne Jeter of the Mississippi Medical News. "However, I had parents that abhorred bigotry, and their influence was significant." In fact, Hill later returned to the South to practice medicine.
In high school, Hill played the flute and piccolo and sang in a quartet. He was student body president and voted Most Likely to Succeed. Influenced by his father, Hill decided to study civil engineering at the University of Mississippi. He changed his plans, however, after several visits home with his roommate, who came from a family of doctors. After earning his undergraduate degree in chemistry, Hill was accepted into the University of Mississippi's medical school. By the early 1960s Hill was in love and wanted to marry Jean Ware, who was studying to be an X-ray technician. He needed money, so he joined the Navy, which helped pay for his tuition and books. He married Ware in 1963 and in 1964 earned his medical degree.
Hill spent the next four years in the U.S. Navy, completing an internship at the naval hospital in Charleston, South Carolina, then serving aboard the Naval destroyer the USS Frontier and at the Bremerton Naval Station near Seattle, Washington. At Bremerton, Hill perfected his surgical skills caring for wounded Vietnam soldiers. "Casualties would be flown over the Pole to us, so we got them 36 hours after injury, " Hill told CNN.com's Peggy Peck. The heavy, yet disparate, workload prepared Hill for the challenges of providing rural health care.
After being discharged, Hill returned to Mississippi with his wife and two daughters, settling in Hammonville. Hill, along with two medical school classmates, took over the clinic of a retiring doctor and began caring for some of the state's poorest residents. "At that time, the Delta was what I'd describe as third world, " Hill told the Mississippi Business Journal' s Lynne Jeter, "and we wanted to see if we could make a difference." The clinic, the only one for miles, had to stay open 24 hours a day. The work was grueling. Hill sewed up wounds, delivered babies, set broken bones, performed minor surgery, and also provided routine medical care for mumps, measles, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Hill's partners soon burned out and left.
Hill's passion for medicine was ignited on July 20, 1969, when he was called to check on a local farmer's wife who had, with the help of a farmhand, delivered a baby a few days before and was still bleeding. Hill drove to the ramshackle farmhouse and found the woman in shock. She was too weak to move so Hill drove back to his clinic, typed her blood and returned with two units. That evening when Hill turned on the television and learned that Neil Armstrong had walked on the moon, he felt grief-stricken. "I couldn't sleep that night or for several nights after that, " he told CNN.com's Peck, "because I couldn't get over the fact that a woman in Mississippi almost bled to death because she didn't have basic medical care the same day that Neil Armstrong walked on" the moon.
Hill decided to do something. He organized a maternal child health program to provide comprehensive prenatal care and persuaded the county to build a 42-bed hospital for his use, which he staffed with nurse-midwives and nurses aides. For patients, mandatory home health visits lasted two years after birth. Within a few years, the county's fetal mortality rate—once the highest in the nation—dropped to below the national average. This was Hill's "proudest accomplishment, " he told Peck.
In 1995, Hill became director of the North Mississippi Medical Center's Family Practice Residency Program. The facility, in Tupelo, was one of the nation's largest rural medical-care centers, serving patients from 22 Mississippi counties and three Alabama counties. Hill stepped down as director in 2001 but remained on the faculty and continued in private practice.
On June 21, 2005, Hill became the AMA's 160th president and has ambitious plans for the organization. He believes the AMA should look past its own advocacy agenda and address public health issues. Specifically, Hill believes the AMA should work to curb issues such as obesity, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and violence, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars in medical expenses. Hill's other concern is the 44 million uninsured Americans. "A lack of insurance coverage in the richest country in the world is a national disgrace, " he told Jeter in the Mississippi Business Journal. "It's an economic problem, but it's also a public health problem, and I think we need to become champions for those people without coverage."
To remedy this problem, Hill proposes a refundable tax credit to help people afford insurance. He envisions a tax credit available even to those who do not pay income tax. Some people might receive the credit in advance in the form of a voucher that could be used to pay premiums. Before making a final recommendation to Congress, Hill has been discussing the idea with industry leaders.
Another focus of Hill's tenure will be the development of a comprehensive health-education plan for schools to drive down long-term medical costs. "I'm not talking about sex education, I'm talking about health education, " Hill told CNN.com. "Education that will help kids make the right choices about everything from diet and exercise to seat belts in cars and helmets for bike riders. That includes making the right decisions about sex, but it is much more than that."
Executive Speeches , October/November 2005, p. 1.
Mississippi Business Journal , July 12, 2004, p. B12.
Southern Medical Journal , October 1995, p. S2.
"J. Edward Hill, MD, " American Medical Association, http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/print/1891.html (October 4, 2005).
"Medical Evolution: AMA President-Elect Initially Just Sought Steady Work, " CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2005/HEALTH/06/14/profile. ama.hill/index.html (November 14, 2005).
"Physician Spotlight: Dr. J. Edward Hill, " Mississippi Medical News , http://host1.bondware.com/~mississippi/news.php?viewStoryPrinter=219 (November 14, 2005).
— Lisa Frick