Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA)
Organized in 1847, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA) became the first statewide medical organization in Alabama. The association continues today and serves as a central governing body and ethics advisory council for local medical associations. It also oversees continuing education and certification for its physician members.
MASA Membership Card MASA grew out of a December 1847 meeting of Alabama physicians aimed at addressing concerns about a state medical licensure law passed in 1823. Alabama’s licensing standards were very lax, and many physicians were concerned about the level of skill possessed by some licensed doctors in the state. In December 1846 members of the Alabama Medical Society (AMS), a local Selma organization, met and decided to call a statewide meeting of doctors. AMS secretary Dr. Albert Gallatin Mabry sent a letter to the president of the Mobile Medical Society to determine its members’ interest in such a meeting. Mabry called for the creation of a state medical society, modeled on those in Mississippi and Virginia, that could develop and enforce a code of ethics and work to improve medical education in the state. He also stressed the need for mental health facilities, which were virtually nonexistent in Alabama at the time. In response, 21 physicians met on December 1, 1847, at the Waverly House in Mobile.
This original incarnation of MASA met first in Selma in 1848 and in other cities in subsequent years. Membership never topped 150, and bad business decisions led to its bankruptcy in 1855. The organization remained inactive until 1868, when a group of physicians met in Selma to restructure it. By 1893, its initial membership of 20 had increased to more than 1,000. Also in the 1890s, members of MASA helped found the Birmingham Medical College.
On February 9, 1877, the legislature passed a medical practice act that superseded a much-weaker 1823 act. This new legislation gave MASA and county societies the power to set qualifications for the practice of medicine in Alabama and conduct qualifying examinations. By 1888 all counties had medical societies chartered by MASA. In 1907 these duties passed to the state of Alabama, when the legislature created a state licensing board to administer the examinations. In the early years of the twentieth century the American Medical Association (AMA) used the MASA model when it decided to reorganize. AMA secretary George H. Simmons called MASA “the best medical association in the world,” and AMA president A. L. Reed praised the “incomparable Alabama plan.”
MASA is currently headquartered at 19 South Jackson Street in Montgomery, and an administrative staff oversees its day-to-day operations. It is governed by an elected College of Counselors and House of Delegates, which in turn elects a Board of Censors that sets basic policy for the organization. Broad matters of policy may also be subject to votes by the House of Delegates. Two councils made up of district members assist the Board of Censors in administering MASA. The Council on Medical Education oversees and presents continuing medical education seminars and workshops and certifies state hospitals and other organizations that offer such courses. The Council on Medical Service manages association activities related to such issues as managed care and medical economics. In order to be a member of MASA, a physician must be certified to practice in Alabama and must also be a member of the medical society of the county where he or she lives.
Cannon, Douglas L. “History of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama.” Journal of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama 46 (January 1977): 20–24 (Part 1); 46 (February 1977):14–16 (Part 2); 46 (March 1977): 42–44 (Part 3); 46 (April 1977): 20–23, 25 (Part 4).
Holley, Howard L. The History of Medicine in Alabama. Birmingham: University of Alabama School of Medicine, 1982.