Ironically, the Society is older than the state of Wisconsin itself. Created as the State Medical Society of Wisconsin by an act of the Territorial Legislature in 1841, the Society is the oldest association in the state. People migrating to the Wisconsin Territory from the Eastern United States and Northern Europe needed health care provided by educated, competent individuals. Before the proliferation and nationwide accreditation of medical education, any individual with an interest in the study of anatomical sciences could call himself a “physician.” The “law of the State of Wisconsin for organizing Medical Societies, enacted AD 1841” intended to provide a set of scientific, professional and ethical standards individuals had to meet in order to care for the people of a territory, which would achieve statehood in seven years time.
The following milestones present only a fraction of the Society’s history and achievements the past 175 years:
1842: The first recorded meeting of Society members occurrs at the Capitol in Madison on Feb. 3.
1854: The Society is reorganized through an act passed by the state legislature and a new constitution is adopted.
1883: The beginning of tuberculosis control in Wisconsin comes with the Society’s recommendation to the Board of Health that it separate infected members of the family.
1897: After 28 years of constant effort, the legislature answers the Society’s plea for a State Board of Medical Examiners.
1904: The Society initiates a public education campaign on tuberculosis.
1919: The Society efforts of many years bear fruit when endowment of $1,000,000 creates the Marquette University Medical School (later the Medical College of Wisconsin).
1932: Wisconsin Medical Society favors choice of physician under Worker’s Compensation insurance.
1938-1941: Society members experiment in voluntary insurance plans in Douglas, Milwaukee, and Rock counties.
1946: Wisconsin Physicians Service (WPS) is created as a division of the Society.
1948: The Society directs efforts to secure more adequate care for the elderly.
1954: The Society Foundation is created.
1967: Wisconsin Medical Society establishes full-time, four-person staff covering the state.
1975: The Physicians Alliance is formed to advance the Society’s political interests, using consultants to involve members in the legislative process.
1981: The Wisconsin Medical Society House of Delegates amends constitution terminating the unified membership requirement between the Wisconsin Medical Society and American Medical Association.
1986: In response to medical malpractice insurance crisis, the Society invests $250,000 in the creation of Physicians’ Insurance Corporation of Wisconsin (PIC), a physician-owned and directed medical malpractice carrier.
1991-1992: The Society is one of only a few state medical associations to develop a comprehensive health care reform proposal, “Wisconsin Care,” before President Clinton. It advocates, among other things, universal access to health care.
1993-1994: Pauline Jackson, MD, becomes the first female president of the Society.
1995: After nearly two decades of effort, the Society achieves one of the best medical malpractice tort reform laws in the nation. The law includes caps of $350,000 on noneconomic damages and $500,000 for wrongful death, plus joint and several liability provisions. Physicians see an immediate 17% decrease in their insurance premiums.
2002: The Society, through branding efforts, becomes known as the Wisconsin Medical Society, and approves use of a new logo.
2004-2011: Susan Turney, MD, MS, FACP, FACMPE, becomes the sixth CEO to lead the Society and is the only physician to ever hold the CEO position.
2006: After the 2005 Supreme Court ruling that declared the caps on noneconomic damages in medical liability cases unconstitutional, the Society worked tirelessly to restore a cap. Act 183 is signed into law, setting a new cap at $750,000, helping ensure that patients have access to care and physicians can continue to afford to practice in Wisconsin.
2007-2010: The Society took the State of Wisconsin to court in October 2007 to challenge the constitutionality of a $200 million raid of the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund. In 2009, the Society appealed a Dane County Circuit Court decision upholding the raid, and in December of that year, the Court of Appeals asked the Supreme Court to accept the case, bypassing the appellate court. The Supreme Court overturned the raid and ordered the state to return the money taken from the Fund, together with lost earnings and interest. The Court also issued a permanent injunction preventing the State from transferring money out of the Fund in the future.
2012: The Society launches Honoring Choices Wisconsin, its major advance care planning initiative, with participation from six organizations.