Dr. Claude Brunson, executive director of the Mississippi State Medical Association Credit: Mississippi State Medical Association

Dr. Claude Brunson has been appointed executive director of the Mississippi State Medical Association, making him the first African American in that role and the only African American currently running a state medical association.

“Physicians in Mississippi are on the front lines in the fight to make Mississippi a healthier state, and I am excited to be able to focus every day on supporting my colleagues through our state medical association,” Brunson said in a statement. “MSMA has for decades been a vital advocate for health care in Mississippi, and that role is more important today as we all face a rapidly changing health care environment.”

The 160-year-old Mississippi State Medical Association is arguably the most powerful lobbying group for physicians in the state, with more than 5,000 members. Brunson replaces the previous executive director Charmaine Kanosky, who left in December after nearly 25 years with the organization.

Few doctors in Mississippi have held more leadership roles than Brunson, an anesthesiologist who also served as president of the MSMA in 2013. Since 2010, Brunson had been Senior Advisor to the Vice Chancellor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He previously served UMMC as director of the Office of Government and as chair of the Anesthesiology department.

Brunson currently serves as president of the Board of Medical Licensure, which is the licensing and regulatory agency for Mississippi physicians, over 70 percent of whom are MSMA members.

“All of the state’s physicians know, today, they have one of their own at the helm. He knows medicine and he knows Mississippi,” said Dr. Jennifer Bryan, chair of the Mississippi State Medical Association Board of Trustees, in a statement.

Brunson said he plans to resign that role before he takes on the role of MSMA executive director full time on April 1.

But the cozy relationship between the Board of Medical Licensure and MSMA is well established—and codified. State law allows the MSMA to nominate up to three of its members every time the governor makes an appointment, something non-member physicians have criticized.

“The MSMA’s job is to be pro-doctor. I personally don’t believe you can be pro-doctor and pro-patient. And given the choice (you should) be pro patient,” said John K. Hall, former director of the Board of Medical Licensure, in an interview last year.

A native of Auburn, Ala., Brunson earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Alabama after a four-year tour with the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman and a field medicine technician. He completed his medical degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and his residency in anesthesiology at UMMC. After graduating, Brunson joined the faculty of the medical school, later serving as chief of the medical staff.

He has also served on expert panels of the Food and Drug Administration. Gov. Phil Bryant, who originally appointed Brunson to the Board of Medical Licensure, also appointed him to his Emergency Medical Services Committee and the Governor’s Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Abuse.

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Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.