Cover: CMS Past-president Jeremy Lazarus, MD, elected AMA President

Sunday, July 01, 2012 01:00 PM
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First Colorado physician in 91 years to hold AMA’s highest office

Editor’s note: The following includes reporting from the American Medical Association reprinted with permission from American Medical News (“Strengthening Medicine for the Long Run”, by Carolyne Krupa). Copyright © (2012) American Medical Association. All rights reserved. It also includes photographs reprinted with permission from Marc Piscotty,, copyright (2012), all rights reserved.

For only the second time in 167 years and the first time in 91 years, a Colorado physician has been elected as president of the American Medical Association.

Colorado Medical Society Past-president Jeremy A. Lazarus, MD, was inaugurated June 19 as the 167th president of the American Medical Association, the nation’s largest and most influential physician organization.

During an interview with Colorado Medicine, Dr. Lazarus credited his experience in Colorado with having played a crucial role in his ascent to the AMA’s top office.

“My journey to the AMA presidency included my many activities within the Colorado psychiatric and medical communities, years of committee and advocacy work on behalf of organized medicine, and a consistent belief that physicians need to work together to achieve lasting results for our patients and our practices,” said Dr. Lazarus. “It was the spirit of working together as colleagues in Colorado, our willingness to listen to diverse viewpoints and the leadership of the Colorado Medical Society which has actively partnered with the AMA to the benefit of Colorado physicians and patients that provided me with the base on which to succeed at the AMA.”

He also took the opportunity to speak to the need for physicians to join together with the AMA to have their voice heard. “Each year I learn new ways in which the AMA is the premier organization representing physicians both in practice and advocacy,” he said. “It would be a great honor to me if those physicians who are not currently members of the
AMA or have been in the past, would take another look at what the AMA is and has been doing on behalf of all of us and join. For those who are members, I sincerely thank you.”

In his inaugural address as AMA president Dr. Lazarus emphasized the need for endurance and persistence in meeting the challenge of strengthening the health care system for the long run. Dr. Lazarus told the nation’s physician leaders assembled for the AMA Annual Meeting that he looked forward to making great strides together on the road to a better health care system.

“I am excited to be your president, now let’s run this race together and get the job done,” said Dr. Lazarus. “Now is the time to rise up. Rise to the occasion. Be persistent. And keep going no matter how tiring it may get.”

Dr. Lazarus also pledged to assist the mental health needs of combat troops, veterans and their families, as well as victims of violence and abuse.

“As AMA president, my focus will include the need to better integrate mental health care into other aspects of medical care – to provide more resources to treat more people,” said Dr. Lazarus.

Colorado celebrates
Physicians across Colorado have been celebrating the news that one of their own will bring his experience as a private practicing physician to the AMA’s highest office.

Colorado Medical Society President Brent Keeler, MD, hailed Dr. Lazarus’ election as another indication of Colorado’s growing influence on the national health care scene, saying, “Jeremy’s election has the national health care spotlight shining once again on Colorado.”

Jan Kief, MD, CMS President-elect, added, “I am absolutely thrilled with Jeremy’s election to the AMA. Not only will his breadth and depth of leadership serve our nation’s physicians well, his consistent commitment to his Colorado roots will give our physicians a unique voice in the national health care debate.”

Demanding journey ahead
Dr. Lazarus has traveled the world participating in grueling athletic events.

He has completed 13 marathons and 13 Ironman triathlons. Now he is preparing for a new kind of endurance test.

During his year as AMA president, he will spend more than 200 days traveling throughout the country and abroad, speaking with physicians, students, health professionals and others to champion the AMA’s initiatives.

Dr. Lazarus said it’s a crucial time in medicine, and he welcomes the challenge.

“Things are changing in the way care is delivered,” he said. “I will be in a position to help make physicians aware of what those changes are, what they can do to prepare for them and how the AMA can help.”

Richert Quinn Jr., MD, has known Dr. Lazarus for 20 years and said he will be an articulate spokesman.

“He has been successful at every level, and people look up to him for his leadership,” said Dr. Quinn, a general surgeon from Greeley, Colo. and member of the AMA Senior Physicians Group. “He’s somebody you can really hold up as a role model for the profession.”

In addition to being a physician and an athlete, Dr. Lazarus, 68, is a musician. He has performed on stage numerous times, directed synagogue choirs in Chicago and Denver, and sung with the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Central City Opera Chorus in Central City, Colo., and Colorado Chorale in Denver.

His many talents and interests make him especially well-suited to represent physicians, said longtime friend and colleague Dick Allen, MD, a Portland, Ore., obstetrician-gynecologist and the 2007 recipient of the AMA Distinguished Service Award.

“The fact that Jerry has other interests outside of medicine adds to his resume as a physician leader. It makes him someone who is real, personable and friendly,” Dr. Allen said.

A call to lead
Dr. Lazarus has been active in organized medicine for more than two decades and has served in leadership roles in the American Psychiatric Association, the Colorado Medical Society and what was then the Arapahoe County Medical Society. He became an AMA alternate delegate in 1993 and was elected to the AMA Board of Trustees in 2003.

About 16 years ago, a personal health scare drove him to step up his involvement. During a trip to Vail, Colo., he developed a life-threatening acute intestinal blockage. He was in surgery within 12 hours, and spent more than a week in the hospital.

The experience was startling, especially for someone who was so physically fit. “It came out of the blue,” said his wife, Debbie. “It was a very shocking experience. He was always very healthy and suddenly he could have been gone.”

Dr. Lazarus took the health scare as another challenge. Instead of slowing him down, it pushed him to do more of the things he had always intended to do. He ran for AMA vice speaker and president of the Colorado Medical Society and won both races. He also edited his second book: Entering Private Practice: A Handbook for Psychiatrists.

He saw being involved in the AMA as an opportunity to have a broader positive impact on health care. Some of the issues he has advocated for are ensuring more physicians and other health professionals are trained to treat military veterans, providing access to care for the uninsured and repealing the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

Dr. Lazarus said he hopes to help doctors find common ground despite different backgrounds, specialties and practice models.

“I think the AMA has to have an open tent and represent the views of everyone,” he said. “We may take care of patients in different ways, but we need to work together.”

A lifelong love of music
His mother, who was a professional singer and music teacher, raised Dr. Lazarus with a love for music. He had voice training until he was in his 30s and plays the saxophone, violin and guitar.

In medical school, he and a friend sang at synagogues, bar mitzvahs and other events to help pay the bills. Today, Dr. Lazarus keeps his music skills alive by playing in a band with three physician friends. “Dr. Feelgood’s Folk Remedy” was formed about 15 years ago and includes Dr. Lazarus on guitar, Dr. Allen on banjo and Mark Levine, MD, on guitar.

The trio mostly plays at medical association meetings, including gatherings of the AMA and the Colorado Medical Society. They perform songs by the Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, and have a bent toward music with a medical theme. Tunes such as “The Ballad of the Colorectal Surgeon” and the “Ballad of Sigmund Freud” always are favorites among physician audiences, Dr. Lazarus said.

The first time they played for a large audience was a surprise performance at the Colorado Medical Society’s annual conference. They dressed alike in khaki pants and striped shirts.

“The looks on the faces in the audience were priceless,” said Dr. Allen, a former CMS president. “Here you had major leadership of CMS, and no one knew that we could sing anything.”

Dr. Lazarus is a good musician, friend and physician, said Dr. Levine, chief medical officer for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services office in Denver and clinical professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine.

“There is a difficult balance between being personable and professional; Jeremy has always managed to be both,” he said.

A close-knit family
Dr. Lazarus grew up in Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Northwestern University. He graduated with honors from the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

During his second year of medical school, he met his future wife, Debbie. She spent 10 years of her childhood in Israel and is fluent in Hebrew. In a “surreptitious arrangement,” Dr. Lazarus’ mother asked Debbie to come over to help her translate some Hebrew and introduced her to her son.

“He was really, really different – very honest and sincere,” Debbie Lazarus said. “We told [his mother] that was probably the best thing she ever did for us was introduce us. She picked well.”

At their wedding in a Chicago hotel, Dr. Lazarus surprised his bride with a song. “When I came in with my parents, I just stopped and he sang ‘And This Is My Beloved’ from ‘Kismet,’ ” she said. “It was fabulous.”

The couple has been married 45 years and loves spending time with their three sons and eight grandchildren. Their oldest son, Steven, 45, is a psychologist in Littleton, Colo. Their middle son, Ethan, 42, is a family physician in Denver who specializes in bariatric medicine. Their youngest, David, 38, runs a day trading company in Miami Beach, Fla., and is married to dermatologist Melissa Lazarus, MD.

Opportunity in Denver
After medical school, Dr. Lazarus completed a mixed medical internship at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. In 1969, he received a residency position at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, and he and his wife made the move to Denver with their first son, who was two at the time. It was a good career opportunity, and Denver offered a good quality of life, he said.

“We just knew this was the right place to raise sons,” Debbie added.

Dr. Lazarus said he chose psychiatry because he is intensely interested in understanding how people think and behave. “It fascinated me the way people tick,” he said.

He completed a three-year residency in general psychiatry and became chief resident his third year. He then worked at the Veterans Affairs Eastern Colorado Health Care System, where he saw patients with conditions including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorders and various addictions.

He has spent much of his career in private practice and still sees patients, many of whom he has treated for 10 to 20 years. Beyond his practice, Dr. Lazarus is a clinical professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine and a voluntary professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine.

It was during his residency that Dr. Lazarus became a runner. About five years after completing his residency, he ran his first marathon. At age 41, he finished his first triathlon. Competitions have taken him to Hawaii, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Australia.

“It just feels good to be able to finish something like that,” he said. “I was pretty lucky. I never got injured or hurt. It was hard, but it was always great finishing.” When he can, Dr. Lazarus runs about 6½ miles a day on a trail behind his house.

He and Debbie, who has run seven marathons herself, also like to ride their tandem bicycle on long treks. They have biked together on trips up to 500 miles along the countrysides of France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Ireland.

A unique opportunity
As a physician, Dr. Lazarus said he believes he has helped thousands of patients. As AMA president, he hopes to help thousands of physicians help their patients.

“It’s very obvious when you’re helping one person,” he said. “Feedback is very immediate. But with the AMA, things can take many years. The reach is broader, but the immediate gratification is slower in coming.”

Rochester, N.Y., psychiatrist John “Jack” McIntyre, MD, has known Dr. Lazarus for 30 years through the American Psychiatric Association He describes him as warm, engaging and tenacious.

“He’s really a remarkable person, and he has an incredibly broad interest in many aspects of health care,” said Dr. McIntyre, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester, former APA president and a member of the AMA Council on Medical Service. “He has great endurance in pursuing issues to workable solutions. He leads by example. You see him and you want to emulate him.”

Serving as AMA president is always a challenging and critical role for the profession, Dr. Levine said. Regardless of whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act survives the U.S. Supreme Court, the public recognizes health care system reform is necessary.

“This is a particularly challenging time because of all of the opportunities that are ahead of us,” Dr. Levine said. “Jeremy, I think, is going to have a unique opportunity.”

About Jeremy A. Lazarus, MD

Specialty: Psychiatry
Home: Denver
Medical education: University of Illinois College of Medicine
Family: Wife, Debbie; three sons, Steven, Ethan and David

AMA positions: Speaker, House of Delegates; vice speaker, House of Delegates; chair, Board of Trustees Compensation Committee; member, Board of Trustees Executive Committee; member, Board of Trustees Finance Committee.

Other posts and awards: Past president, Colorado Medical Society; past president, Colorado Psychiatric Society; past president, Arapahoe County Medical Society; past speaker and distinguished fellow, American Psychiatric Association; AMA representative, Health Coverage Coalition for the Uninsured; AMA representative, Ride for World Health; recipient, 2008 Colorado Psychiatric Society Outstanding Achievement Award; recipient, APA Special Presidential Commendation, APA Assembly Warren Williams Award and APA Distinguished Service Award.

Posted in: Colorado Medicine | Cover Story | Initiatives | AMA


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