Dr. Patrice Harris has made history by becoming the first African-American woman elected to be president of the American Medical Association (AMA).

Harris, who hails from Bluefield, West Virginia and was elected last month, will serve as the Association’s 174th president, according to Charleston Gazette-Mail.

The West Virginia University (WVU) graduate, who begins her tenure as president June 2019, knew she wanted to be a doctor, but wasn’t sure how to achieve it since no one else in her family had gone to medical school.

“No one in my family had gone to medical school, and I had no family friends that did,” Harris said. “It is not an easy thing to do if you don’t know or don’t have guidance as what to major in.”

Harris studies psychiatry in Atlanta, Georgia and told the Gazette mail that she initially wanted to pursue another form of medicine.

“It was my plan to be a pediatrician, and that was my plan up until my third year of medical school,” She said. “The brain was just fascinating to me, and when I went to my third-year psychiatry clerkship I felt at home, and I then decided that I could merge my love for working with children and adolescents with psychiatry.”

Harris received her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and a medical degree from WVU and was named a delegate to the AMA when she joined the American Psychiatrist Association board.
Harris is no stranger to the AMA; in 2011, she joined the AMA board of trustees and serves as part of the Association’s opioid task force.
She said that people doubted her when she got into medical school and encouraged her to pursue another career.
“I recall early on I had been advised to perhaps go into nursing and not medicine,” she said. “Nursing is a very noble career and noble profession, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It could have been related to the fact that I was a woman, the fact that I was a person of color,” she added. “I don’t know.”

Despite the challenges, she said her family always supported her.

“I always knew from my family and my parents that I could be whatever I wanted to be,” Harris said.