Elkins native is president-elect of the American Medical Association

by Charlotte Ferrell Smith
Daily Mail staff

A West Virginian is taking over as president of the American Medical Association, marking the first time a Mountain State native will head up the prestigious organization.

Elkins native is president-elect of the American Medical Association
Elkins native Nancy J. Nielsen is president-elect of the American Medical Association. ..
Dr. Nancy J. Nielsen, a West Virginia University graduate who was born in Elkins, was elected to the post in June and will officially be sworn in this coming July. She’ll be just the second female to hold the position.

Only one other AMA president has had such strong ties to the Mountain State.

Dr. Charles A. Hoffman, who was born in Ohio, was a Huntington urologist when he was elected for the 1972-1973 term.

Nielsen, who now lives in New York, is clinical professor of medicine and senior associate dean for medical education at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

She also is on the board of advisors for the WVU School

of Medicine.

She graduated from Elkins High School and studied pre-medicine at WVU before getting her doctorate in microbiology from the Catholic University of America in 1969 and her medical degree in 1976 from the University of Buffalo.

“I wanted to be a doctor from the time I was 8,” Nielsen said.

Her West Virginia roots remain intact.

Her mother, Anne Harshbarger, is 91 and still lives in Elkins. Her father, Rankin, now deceased, made his living there as a plumber.

Though she’s lived out of state for many years, Nielsen said she’s found her connections to the West Virginia medical community remain strong.

“As I was coming up the ranks of the AMA, the West Virginia State Medical Association was very supportive,” Nielsen said.

She has held many positions with the American Medical Association, serving four terms as speaker for the organization’s House of Delegates and three terms as vice speaker.

Dr. Constantino Amores, a Charleston physician and chair of the West Virginia delegation of the AMA, said Nielsen never misses a chance to bring up the name of her home state.

“We are a small state with a small delegation,” Amores said. “She always mentions us as ‘my delegation.’ ”

Amores added that Nielsen is humble and witty, two traits that will serve her well in her new leadership role.

“She is disarming, intelligent and good at running a major group,” Amores said.

Nielsen said she has a hefty agenda when she takes office this summer.

“Insurance for all Americans is our loftiest goal,” she said. “In this country, 47 million are now uninsured. One in seven has no insurance.”

She’ll have her work cut out for her as voters go to the polls this year to elect a president.

She said it’s imperative people consider how candidates stand on affordable health insurance for Americans.

The medical association also is lobbying heavily for the federal government to give states more freedom to experiment with health care plans that are tailored specifically to meet the needs of their populations, she said.

Nielsen’s other goals range from getting medical and scientific advances into clinical settings more quickly to addressing skyrocketing costs of liability insurance for physicians.

“We want to help doctors stay in practice,” Nielsen said.

Her new role comes with a schedule that many would find daunting, but she welcomes it.

She already travels often to the nation’s capital to address Congress on various issues, and she’ll be jetting around the country to give talks and presentations to colleagues and the public.

“It is a wild schedule,” she said. “I love what I do and that makes all the difference.”

Her work with the medical school in Buffalo already leaves her with little free time.

“As a state employee, I use all of my vacation time to travel,” Nielsen said. “I work Saturdays and Sundays with my students. I have 540 medical students. It is really a pleasure to educate those who will take care of us when we are old.”

To unwind, she reads, exercises, and joins her son for dinner when she’s in Washington.

Nielsen, who is divorced, has five grown children and seven grandchildren.

Four of her children live near her in New York. Daughters Kristine Bartnik and Robin Nielsen are both teachers. Son David Nielsen is a data analyst for a health care system while Kevin Nielsen is a pediatric nurse. Her son in Washington, D.C., Mark Nielsen, is a lawyer.

Nielsen began her career as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C.
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