patrice harris

Patrice Harris, MD, at APA

Drawing interest from the television series “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” she knew she wanted to become a physician since the 8th grade.

She had a deep care for people, especially children, and it was Marcus Welby’s concern for his own fictional patients that peaked Patrice Harris’ interest in the medical field.

“My inspiration was ‘Marcus Welby’ — that was sort of like today’s ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’” Harris said. “It was a fictional [television series], and what I liked about Dr. Welby was that — even as a young girl — he took care of his patients inside the exam room, but he also cared about their lives outside the exam room, and that appealed to me.”

Harris not only accomplished her goal of becoming a physician, but she rose to the top leadership position within the American medical industry, too, after her induction as president of the American Medical Association in June 2019.

A native of Bluefield, West Virginia, and three-time graduate of WVU, Harris is the first African-American woman to hold the honor of AMA president.

But before every accolade and accomplishment she achieved, it was her father taking her to Morgantown for a WVU football game that decided where she would go to college.

“It was just such a wonderful experience that I knew I wanted to attend WVU,” Harris said. “And so that’s what drew me as a little girl to become a physician and that experience I had that beautiful Saturday in fall — on a football Saturday — is what led me to WVU.”

Harris graduated with three degrees from WVU, receiving a bachelor of arts in psychology in 1982, a master’s degree in 1986 and a doctorate in counseling psychology in 1992. WVU, in fact, was the only medical school she applied to.

“It didn’t even cross my mind [to apply to other schools],” Harris said. “WVU was the only medical school I applied to, so thank goodness it worked out.”

Prior to her induction as AMA president, Harris also served on the AMA Board of Trustees, the American Psychiatric Association Board of Trustees and was president of the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association.

Continuing her devotion to helping all people, Harris hopes others can use her accomplishments as a springboard to their own.

“It’s tangible evidence for little girls and little boys from community of colors, for women all over, that you can aspire not only to be a physician but also to achieve the highest position of leadership within the medical community,” Harris said. “It’s been a great honor and a great privilege to be the president of the American Medical Association.”

And in less than two weeks, she is returning to her alma mater not only as AMA president, but as the December graduation commencement speaker, too.

“To come back to give the commencement address is another significant and wonderful and meaningful opportunity to remain connected with the state and the University that I love, and with the state and the University that gave me my start,” Harris said.