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. NMA recognized the need to give active support to medical students and encourage them in the pursuit of careers as physicians. The SNMA's founding chapters were Meharry Medical College and Howard University College of Medicine.
By 1970, SNMA began to consider becoming an independent organization. Medical students wanted to set a programmatic agenda, legislate and govern funds (obtained through the collection of membership dues and other sources), and determine administrative priorities, which were understandably different from those of the parent organization, whose focus was more aligned to the interests and concerns of practicing medical professionals.
On October 4, 1971, the SNMA became an independent corporation, having formed its original Constitution and By-Laws and filing 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 1980s, as SNMA continued to build, new chapters were added and current ones were strengthened. SNMA members at the local level focused on "getting the word out," promoting the themes of mutual support for medical students of color and advocating for the transformation of medical teaching, to include cultural sensitivity training in the instruction received by all students. 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 its medical student members, but also to serve communities in a very real and proactive way.
Still focused on student enrichment, SNMA's National Protocols were introduced as a template for local chapters in order to serve 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 healthcare concerns, SNMA's National Protocols have continued to be the backbone of the organization's identity, strength, and character. Some protocols have served as the basis for significant philanthropic support, professional alliances and partnerships, and formed the foundation for federally funded programs having a national scope.
In the first twenty-five years, the students conducted much of the work of the organization, under the direction of the medical student Board of Directors. The 1990s 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 consisted of three personnel, with auxiliary services procured from subcontractors and other outside service providers. Programmatic initiatives were complemented during these years by the introduction of several major business plans, which were adopted by the House of Delegates; in 1999, a "30-Year Business Plan" was introduced. SNMA also conducted its first "International Mission," traveling to Jamaica, West Indies, in 1999.
The turn of the century represented a giant leap forward. 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/AIDS 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 culturally sensitive to the populations addressed. Other smaller contracts and grants followed and continue to be pursued. The need for more physical space and staff necessitated the acquisition of a small office building in Washington, D.C. While evidence of the organization's growth, is has also meant significantly increased responsibility for SNMA student leaders and the staff, and required more complex management.
To sustain growth, there is an increased need for consistent administration led by the National Headquarters, to support the association's mission and related projects. New policies and procedural guidelines are anticipated to accommodate development, and to ensure continued longevity and sustained growth of the organization. The dynamic nature of technology transformed communication throughout the organization. The website, email and other electronic communication now had an immediate and integral role. Programmatically, the legislative demise of national Affirmative Action incentives demanded that SNMA leaders innovate to create avenues to reach and motivate underserved students, and encourage them to our ranks. In addition, the growing disparity in healthcare access and quality to underserved communities focused the energies of SNMA community outreach and advocacy.
Transition to new and creative program strategies takes time, requiring the diligence and persistence of SNMA members, leaders and staff, as departures from past business practices are eminent. What remains constant is the mission and policy governance by and for the medical students; this is the SNMA.