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Making History

Marcia Angell: First woman editor of New England Journal of Medicine advocates for health care reform

When the topic of health care reform comes up, the name of Marcia Angell, M.D. is almost certain to be mentioned.

Born in 1939 in Knoxville, Tenn., Angell, a pathologist, was the first woman editor-in-chief of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, a post she held from 1999 to 2000. She first joined the editorial staff of the magazine in 1979 and served as executive editor from 1988 until she accepted the editor-in-chief position.

Angell completed her undergraduate studies in chemistry and mathematics at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., and spent the following year studying microbiology in Frankfurt, Germany, as a Fulbright scholar.

In 1967, she received her M.D. degree from Boston University School of Medicine and completed residencies in both internal medicine and anatomic pathology.

Angell has frequently published articles both in professional journals and in the popular media on a wide range of topics, including medical ethics, health policy, the relationship between law and medicine, end-of-life care and the nature of medical evidence. She co-authored a textbook, Basic Pathology, wrote Science on Trial: The Clash of Medical Evidence and the Law in the Breast Implant Case, published in 1996, and The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It, published in 2004.

Angell is a member of the Association of American Physicians, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of the Sciences and the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.

In her writings and speaking engagements, Angell has positioned herself as an outspoken advocate for health care reform, championing a switch from the traditional system to a single-payer nationalized system, such as is in place in Canada and many other countries throughout the world. She supports a controversial “Medicare for all” system.

She has been critical of the Affordable Health Care Act, often referred to as “Obamacare,” arguing that it keeps the current commercial health care system in place, and will not stem the constantly increasing rise of health care costs. In a 2006 interview on PBS, Angell said: “Our health care system is based on the premise that health care is a commodity like VCRs or computers and that it should be distributed according to the ability to pay in the same way that consumer goods are. That’s not what health care should be. Health care is a need; it’s not a commodity, and it should be distributed according to need. If you’re very sick, you should have a lot of it. If you’re not sick, you shouldn’t have a lot of it. But this should be seen as a personal, individual need, not as a commodity to be distributed like other marketplace commodities. That is a fundamental mistake in the way this country, and only this country, looks at health care. And that market ideology is what has made the health care system so dreadful, so bad at what it does.”

Angell was cited as one of the 25 Most Influential Americans by Time magazine in 1997. She currently serves as senior lecturer in the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and continues to champion the cause of replacing the current commercial-based health care system in the United States with a single-payer system.

By Frank Kourt, Staff Writer

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