Last Updated: Jan 23, 2023
Located in the heart of Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County Medical Society (ACMS) is one of the oldest and largest county medical societies in the state. It was originally organized in 1848, when Dr. Samuel Dilworth advertised the first meeting in a local newspaper. Historical records detail how the group spent the next ten years forming their leadership structure, adopting by-laws, electing officers, and establishing committees. One of the more significant notes included was the application of Martin R. Delany, an African American physician who later became known as one of the first proponents of Black nationalism, as well as the indefinite tabling of his nomination.
Records indicate that ACMS meetings then paused for several years, likely due to the Civil War, before officially establishing in 1865 with many original assembly members present and A.H. Gross being named as president. Bylaws published in 1939 state that, “the Society exists to promote interactions among physicians, as well as to elevate and extend the practice of medicine in the county.” Since its inception, the leading goal of ACMS has been to further the health and well-being of the community, as well as advance awareness around public health. Many of the early issues that Society physicians addressed included sanitation, safe water and food supplies, and epidemics, along with advocating for and coordinating public health commissions.
There have been over 150 different leaders since its formation, one of the most notable being Dr. Zoe Allison Johnston, who was named the first woman president of ACMS in 1944.
Today, the Society continues to work towards fulfilling the original goal of serving physicians, supporting and connecting with around 2,500 members, including students, residents, physicians, retired physicians, and practice administrators. “The issues that impact Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are often different from the things that impact people in rural Pennsylvania,” says Executive Director Sara Hussey. “We have two of the largest hospital systems in the country in our area, so people come to Pittsburgh for their training, then stay to practice and live here and raise their families. The local component of a county medical society is essential for making connections and making sure that we’re advocating for things that are important to our local physicians.”
The Society has always strived to bring physicians together, often collaborating with community organizations and governmental agencies to address issues that will improve health and advance clinical knowledge. These efforts include the creation of the ACMS Foundation, which was initiated in 1960 with a mission of advancing wellness by confronting social determinants and health disparities. Through charitable grants, the Foundation has helped champion public health causes such as substance abuse, teen pregnancy, housing inequality, childhood obesity, and front-line relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also facilitates scholarships for medical students residing in Allegheny County, with the funds assisting with the cost of attending a Pennsylvania medical school.
Like many other county medical societies, ACMS partners with PAMED in the legislative, administrative, and advocacy arenas, which helps take the burden off their small staff. “We don’t have a support team, we don’t have a lobbyist, so we really rely on and are grateful to PAMED for leading the charge,” continues Hussey. “The two society memberships being bound together really creates a synergy between the local and state levels that I think provides a great deal of benefits.”
Former ACMS president Lawrence John, MD, agrees, sharing that the Society and PAMED work together to address some of the issues physicians face, engaging in productive conversations about them. “Physicians are being pulled in so many different directions, the question is what we can do to help them. Starting that discussion at a county level, then bringing it to the state level is one example of the many things we do to collaborate and help the medical community.”