The American Medical Association made money on operations for the second straight year in 2001 but lost a significant chunk of its membership-about 4.2% in all, the organization reported.
Although the Chicago-based AMA is still the largest doctors' organization in America, its membership fell to 278,302 in 2001 from 290,357 in 2000. The decline deepened concerns about the AMA's future role and relevance in the industry and reinforced the determination of top officials to make membership growth and retention a key effort in the coming years.
"While the AMA is increasingly dependent on nondues revenue, it is still imperative that all physicians join us in our fight for meaningful changes in our nation's healthcare system," William Plested III, M.D., chairman of the AMA's finance committee, said in a written statement. "Increasing membership is a top priority for us this year and into the future."
Excluding almost 50,000 medical students, who pay just $20 per year in dues, the AMA now represents about 229,000 active, licensed physicians-or about 28% of all active, licensed physicians in the U.S. In the mid-1970s, the AMA represented about half of America's doctors. A regular membership costs $420 per year.
Even loyal AMA members said the organization, stung by several public relations snafus over the past several years, must start providing more tangible value if it hopes to attract new members.
"I love the AMA, and I want the organization to be successful," said Tom Garcia, M.D., a cardiologist in Houston who served on a special committee that recently recommended dramatic changes in the AMA. "But young physicians are disillusioned. They perceive no relevance."
"These latest figures show just how angry the physicians are and don't believe they are getting enough bang for the buck with the AMA as it stands currently."
Despite the decrease in membership, the not-for-profit association posted an operating profit of about $4.9 million in 2001, a nearly 82% increase over 2000. The news came just six months after the AMA had forecast a loss of $2.9 million for the year.
The annual operating profit, only the second one for the AMA since 1996, is the result of conservative spending and a strategic "repositioning" plan announced in 2000 that included about 80 layoffs and reductions in some programs, officials said. General and administrative expenses were cut by 5.2% in 2001.
Last December, officials had predicted a $2.9 million loss, largely because of the costs of a new Internet-based venture, Preference Solutions, and about $600,000 spent investigating allegations made in a lawsuit by former Executive Vice President E. Ratcliffe Anderson Jr., M.D., who was fired last year.
As expected, the AMA suffered a significant reduction in dues revenue, a decline of $3.3 million, or nearly 6%. Total revenue fell 3.5% to $249 million.