The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is the largest psychiatric organization in the world, with >38,500 members across 100 countries. At 175 years of age, it is also the oldest medical association in the United States, 3 years older than the venerable American Medical Association, and 48 years older than its mental health sister, the American Psychological Association.
I am truly honored to be nominated as the next APA President-Elect (Note: Dr. Nasrallah has withdrawn his candidacy for APA President-Elect. For a statement of explanation, click here), which prompted me to delve into the history of this great association that unifies us, empowers us, and gives us a loud voice to advocate for our patients, for our noble medical profession, and for advancing the mental health of society at large.
Our APA was established by 13 superintendents of the “Insane Asylums and Hospitals” in 1844. Its first name was a mouthful—the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions of the Insane, a term now regarded as pejorative and unscientific. Thankfully, the name was changed almost 50 years later (in 1893) to the American Medico-Psychological Association, which was refined 28 years later in 1921 to the American Psychiatric Association, a name that has lasted for the past 99 years. If I am fortunate enough to be elected by my peers this month as President-Elect, and assume the APA Presidency in May 2021, a full century after the name of APA was adopted in 1921 (the era of Kraepelin, Bleuler, and Freud), I will propose and ask the APA members to approve inserting “physicians” in the APA name so it will become the American Psychiatric Physicians Association, or APPA. This will clearly reflect our medical training and identity, and underscore the remarkable progress achieved by the inspiring and diligent work of countless psychiatric physicians over the past century.
By the way, per a Google search, the term “physician” came about in the 13th century, when the Anglo-Normans used the French term “physique” or remedy, to coin the English word “physic” or medicine. Science historian Howard Markel discussed how “physic” became “physician.” As for the term “psychiatrist,” it was coined in 1808 by the German physician Johann Christian Reil, and it essentially means “medical treatment of the soul.”
The APA has an amazing structure that is very democratic, enabling members to elect their leaders as well as their representatives on the Assembly. It has a Board of Trustees (Table 1) comprised of 22 members, 7 of whom comprise the Executive Committee, plus 3 attendees. Eight standing committees (Table 2) report to the Board. There are also 13 councils (Table 3), 11 caucuses (Table 4), and 7 minority and underrepresented caucuses (Table 5). The APA has a national network of 76 District Branches (DBs), each usually representing one state, except for large states that have several DBs (California has 5, and New York has 13). The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Western Canada, and Quebec/Eastern Canada each have DBs as well. The DBs have their own bylaws, governance structures, and annual dues, and within them, they may have local “societies” in large cities. Finally, each DB elects representatives to the Assembly, which is comprised of 7 Areas, each of which contains several states.
I am glad to have been a member of the APA for more than 4 decades, since my residency days. Although most psychiatrists in the United States and Canada belong to the APA, some do not, either because they never joined, or they dropped out because they think the dues are high (although dues are less than half of 1% of the average psychiatrist’s annual income, which is a great bargain). So, for my colleagues who do belong, and especially for those who do not, I provide 20 reasons why being an APA member offers so many advantages, professionally and personally, and has a tremendous benefit to us individually and collectively:
1. It makes eminent sense to unify as members of a medical profession to enable us to be strong and influential, to overcome our challenges, and to achieve our goals.
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