AMA Medal of Valor Awarded to Civil Rights Physician Activist

Megan Brooks

November 13, 2017

The American Medical Association (AMA) has awarded the Medal of Valor to Robert Smith, MD, "for fighting social injustice and providing health care to all Mississippi citizens during the civil rights era" according to an AMA news release.

The award, which is granted by the AMA Board of Trustees, honors AMA members who demonstrate courage under extraordinary circumstances in nonwartime situations.

Dr Smith was an "instrumental figure" during the civil rights movement in Mississippi, delivering consistent healthcare to those with little or no access, the AMA said in the release.

Dr Robert Smith after receiving a Mississippi state Senate resolution acknowledging his work as one of the first black physicians in the state, Jan 23, 2017.

A founder of the Medical Committee for Civil Rights and the Committee for Human Rights in the mid-1960s, Dr Smith and others provided aid and treatment to civil rights workers and other residents of Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964, the AMA said.

"In dangerous, volatile times in our country, Dr Smith placed himself repeatedly in harm's way and made it his mission to stand up for the health care rights of African Americans," AMA President David O. Barbe, MD, said in the release. "He is a man of compassion, courage and bravery, who routinely put the health and well-being of others ahead of his own by providing medical care to the poor, uninsured and underserved citizens of Mississippi."

Dr Smith coauthored, founded and implemented the concept of Federally Qualified Health Centers. He also cofounded the nation's first rural community health center, Delta Health Center, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, as well as the Mississippi Primary Health Care Association, which provides accessible and affordable primary medical and dental services to individuals and families, according to the AMA. There are now more than 10,000 centers serving 30 million Americans, including several hundred thousand Mississippians.

A native of Terry, Mississippi, Dr Smith graduated from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, and received his medical degree from Howard Medical School in Washington, DC. He serves as president and chief executive officer of Central Mississippi Health Services, Inc. He and his wife, Otrie Hickerson Smith, MD, have three children.

The AMA presented Dr Smith the Medal of Valor during the opening session of the 2017 AMA Interim Meeting, underway in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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