Dr. Nancy Nielsen of Orchard Park became the first Buffalo-area doctor and the second woman to be elected president of the 150-year-old American Medical Association on Saturday at the association's annual conference in Chicago.
As president-elect, Nielsen, who is currently the speaker of the AMA's House of Delegates, will be sworn in next June and serve a one-year term.
Like previous AMA presidents, Nielsen will live at home, commuting when necessary, most often to Washington, D.C.
"The job of the president is to be the official spokesperson, and to really represent all of America's physicians," Nielsen said, on the phone from the conference's hotel in Chicago.
"We testify before Congress, we go on CNN, we do what we need to articulate the AMA's position," she explained. "It's a tremendous responsibility."
Nielsen, who holds an M.D. from the University at Buffalo and a doctorate in microbiology from Catholic University, is currently the chief medical officer of Independent Health and the senior associate dean of medical education at the UB School of Medicine, positions she plans to keep.
"I'm not quitting my day job," she joked. "I don't even want to look at the schedule," she added, laughing.
She said she considers the appointment "an opportunity for someone from Buffalo to be in a visible position."
Nielsen, who began her involvement with the AMA in 1992 as a delegate and has risen through the ranks, said this is a "challenging" time to represent doctors. She cited current debates about physician salary policies and tiered networks that rank physicians by quality as hot topics.
"Health care is coming front and center," she said. "After the war in Iraq, it will most likely be the biggest issue in the next presidential election."
Nielsen, whose five children attended the election in support of their mother, said she never imagined her career would afford her such responsibilities and opportunities.
"I grew up in West Virginia, and this is a long, long way from there," she said.