AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

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AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Virtual Mentor. June 2000, Volume 2, Number 6.

Profile of a Role Model

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Herbert Nickens, MD

Herbert Nickens, a former Vice President of Community and Minority Programs for the Association of American Medical Colleges, is posthumously recognized as an exemplary role model in medicine for his dedication to health care justice and physician diversity.

Born on December 28, 1947, in Washington, DC, Nickens graduated from Harvard College in 1969. He received his MD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1973, concurrently earning a master's degree in sociology. In 1986, Nickens became the first director of the Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services. He was appointed to that position by Otis Bowen, MD, who was the Health and Human Services Secretary at the time. He served in that post until joining the Association of American Medical Colleges in 1988 and was Vice President for AAMC's Community and Minority Programs until his untimely death of a heart attack at the age of 51 years.

As the AAMC's first Vice President for Community and Minority Programs, Nickens was instrumental in heading The AAMC's Project 2000 by 3000. The goal of this innovative program was to greatly increase the number of underrepresented minorities in medical education. He also developed a program to mentor and promote the careers of minority academic physicians. Nickens wrote passionately about a variety of issues, including minority health status, ethnic and racial diversity in medical education, and access to health care [1-5].

"Herbert Nickens was a passionate advocate for fairness and a tireless worker for equity in health care," said AAMC President Jordan J. Cohen, MD. "Trained as a psychiatrist, he sought throughout his professional life to heal one of our country's most distressing ills--limited opportunities for minorities in the health professions. No one in recent memory did more than Herbert Nickens to bridge the painful and persistent diversity gap in medicine."

For his lifetime devotion to issues of health care justice and physician diversity, we are proud to recognize Dr. Nickens with the Virtual Mentor Award for being an exemplary role model in medicine.


  1. Nickens HW, Ready T. A strategy to tame the "savage inequalities." Acad Med. 1999;74:310-311.
  2. Nickens HW, Ready TP, Petersdorf RG. Project 3000 by 2000: racial and ethnic diversity in US medical schools. N Engl J Med. 1994;331:472-476. Article available at: N Engl J Med. Accessed May 25, 2000.
  3. Nickens HW. The health status of minority populations in the United States. West J Med. 1991;155:27-32. Abstract available at: PubMed. Accessed May 25, 2000.
  4. Nickens HW. Health promotion and disease prevention among minorities. Health Aff (Millwood). 1990;9:133-143.
  5. Nickens HW. A case of professional exclusion in 1870: the formation of the first black medical society. JAMA. 1985;253:2549-2552. Abstract available at: PubMed. Accessed May 25, 2000.

We invite students to nominate a physician role model who, for them, has been an outstanding teacher by example. Students might, for example, describe in detail a single experience with a role model that was particularly meaningful to them, or describe a series of patient-related experiences with a role model that influenced their ethical development. In describing their experiences, we encourage students to examine why it was significant to them and how it may influence their professional behavior.

Each month, we will select profiles of role models to post in this space, and those selected will receive a gift of appreciation.

Nominations should include the following information:

1. Student's name, address, phone, e-mail, and medical school
2. Role model's name, title, and institution
3. Description of an experience (500-800 words)

Send your profiles to: Audiey Kao, MD, PhD, Institute for Ethics, AMA, 515 North State, Chicago, IL 60610

The viewpoints expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.