SNMA History

The Student National Medical Association (SNMA) was founded in 1964 as a sub-division of the National Medical Association (NMA), largely through the effort and support of W. Montague Cobb, MD, an NMA member (and, later, NMA President), who spearheaded the initiative to include medical students in the association’s ranks. Even then, the NMA recognized the need to begin giving active support of medical students and encouraging them in pursuing careers as physicians; they were looking, too, to build their own roster of members and organizational strength. The SNMA’s founding chapters were Meharry Medical College and Howard University College of Medicine. Due to the loss in the 1980’s of the organization’s chronological papers, little is known about SNMA’s formal development throughout those early years. It may be presumed that the most effort was devoted to organizing students in the different states, chartering the first student chapters, and building its management structure within the NMA. There is little documentation to show when each medical student chapter was chartered; it is known that SNMA has conducted an annual convention every year since its inception.

By 1970, SNMA had become a strong enough network, with sufficient leadership capability and chapter strength, to consider becoming an independent organization. Sentiment among the medical student leaders was that the students wanted to be able to set their own programmatic agenda, legislate and govern their own funds (obtained through the collection of membership dues and other sources), and to determine their own administrative priorities, which were apparently—and understandably—different from those of the parent organization, whose focus was more aligned to the interests and concerns of practicing medical professionals.

In 1971, having formed its original Constitution and By-Laws, the SNMA became an independent corporation, filing at the same time for IRS 501(c)3 non-profit status. SNMA, Inc. was born. Early achievements included the publication of the association’s first “signature” publication, The Black Bag, and the introduction of regular regional conventions. “Affirmative Action” legislation was in place everywhere, with increased minority enrollments rising at schools throughout the country and on most medical school campuses. SNMA’s network grew steadily.

Throughout the 1980’s, as SNMA continued to build, new chapters were added and old ones were strengthened. SNMA members at the local level focused especially in “getting the word out”, promoting the themes of mutual support for medical students of color in its various locations and pressing for the transformation of medical teaching, such that medical instruction received by all students was culturally sensitive to the needs of the nation’s diverse and varied populations. In the mid-to-late ‘80s, SNMA leadership began to bring stronger focus to its community service efforts, fulfilling the organization’s mission not only to nurture and support the academic enrichment of it’s medical student members, but also to serve communities in a very real and pro-active way. Still focused on student enrichment, SNMA’s National Protocols were introduced as a template for local chapters to follow in serving the communities in which they also worked as students. Intending to both “pipeline” youth into the fields of medicine and scientific research, while also addressing specific health care concerns, SNMA’s National Protocols have continued to be the backbone of the organization’s identity, strength, and character. In effect for over 15 years, the leading National Protocols include: MAPS, YSEP, HPREP, Sexual Health Awareness, and Smoking Cessation. Some protocols have served as the basis for significant philanthropic support, professional alliances and partnerships, and—most recently, as with the introduction in 2000 of the HIP Corps Program—have formed the foundation for federally funded programs having a national scope. SNMA is now “on the map”.

In the first twenty-five years, there was no permanent staff and the students themselves conducted much of the work of the organization, under the direction of the medical student Board of Directors. The 1990’s saw a tremendous increase in membership growth, as well as nationwide interest and participation in the Annual Medical Education Conference and National Convention. Meeting the needs of this increased volume of activity, SNMA employed its first permanent full-time staff members. By 1995, the staff complement totaled three personnel, with auxiliary services procured from subcontractors and other outside service providers. With increased membership and the growing popularity and financial success of the annual meeting both providing sufficient revenue annually, the organization was now assured of meeting its business obligations. Programmatic initiatives were complemented during these years by the introduction of several major “business plans”, which were adopted by the House of Delegates, the most recent, in 1999, being the “30-Year Business Plan”.

The Student National Medical Foundation was founded in 1994, but it failed to realize its organizational objectives and was later dissolved, but talk in recent years has suggested the revival of this organizational support entity. Other organizational developments in the 90’s included several re-starts of the Journal of the Student National Medical Association (a quarterly periodical), publication and distribution of the SNMA News, publication of the premier issue of the SNMA Keepsake Journal (initially through federal funding, now through another publisher’s private ownership) revised publication and copyright of So You Want To Be A Doctor (a publication aimed at pre-health students), and the establishment of a web site on the Internet. SNMA also conducted its first “International Mission”, traveling to Jamaica, West Indies, in 1999. SNMA was solid.

The turn of the century—the 2000 millennium—represented a giant leap forward for the SNMA. In 2000, the organization obtained its first significant federal contract. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded a contract to SNMA to conduct HIV/AID intervention and prevention training through the SNMA-conceived HIP Corps program. HIP Corps was a unique concept, an outgrowth of SNMA’s Sexual Health Awareness protocol wherein SNMA medical student members serve as both agents and trainers of other students to conduct and deliver information to the community regarding HIV and AIDS, with a focus that is particularly culturally sensitive to the populations addressed. Other smaller contracts and grants followed and continue to be pursued. The needs for more physical space and staff necessitated the acquisition of a small office building in Washington, D.C., while laudatory for the organization’s growth, have also meant significantly increased responsibility for SNMA student leaders and the staff, and requiring more complex management.

The forecast, then, for the coming years in the 2000’s decades will most likely include the transformation away from the board-based management style, to increased reliance on the services of competent professional personnel and specialized service providers. With the burgeoning increase of new business technologies, there will evolve an increased dependency on consistent administration emanating from the National Headquarters, including the presence of full-time professional staff to support the association’s mission and related projects. New policies and procedural guidelines are anticipated for satisfactorily accommodating development, and for assuring continued long-life and sustained growth of the organization. Programmatically, the legislative demise at the national level of Affirmative Action incentives will demand from SNMA’s student leaders innovative ways of reaching and motivating underserved students, and encouraging them to our ranks. As with change anywhere, at any time, this transition to new and creative program strategies (as well as the turn toward more sophisticated management and administration practices) will take some time, requiring diligence and persistent attention on the part of SNMA’s corporate leaders and staff, as departures from older ways of carrying-out the organization’s business affairs are introduced. What will remain constant and sure will be policy governance by and for the medical students; this is the SNMA.