The journal was established in 1883 by the American Medical Association and superseded the Transactions of the American Medical Association. The Councilor's Bulletin was renamed the Bulletin of the American Medical Association that was later absorbed by the Journal of the American Medical Association. In 1960 the journal obtained its current title, JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. The journal is commonly referred to as JAMA.
Continuing Education Opportunities for Physicians was a semiannual journal section providing lists for regional or national levels of continuing medical education (CME). JAMA had provided this information since 1937. Prior to 1955, the list was produced either quarterly or semiannually. Between 1955 and 1981, the list was available annually, as the number of CME offerings increased from 1,000 (1955) to 8,500 (1981). The JAMA website states that webinars are available for CME.
On 11 July 2016 JAMA published an article by Barack Obama entitled "United States Health Care Reform: Progress to Date and Next Steps", which was the first academic paper published by a sitting U.S. President. The article was not subject to blind peer-review and argued for specific policies that future presidents could pursue in order to improve national health care reform implementation.
After the controversial firing of an editor-in-chief, George D. Lundberg, a process was put in place to ensure editorial freedom. A seven-member journal oversight committee was created to evaluate the editor-in-chief and to help ensure editorial independence. Since its inception, the committee has met at least once a year. Presently, JAMA states that article content should be attributed to authors and not the publisher.
From 1964 to 2013, the journal used images of artwork on its cover and published essays commenting on this artwork. According to former editor George Lundberg, this practice was designed to link the humanities and medicine. In 2013, a redesign moved the art feature to an inside page, replacing the cover with a table of contents. The purpose of the redesign was to standardize the appearance of all journals in The JAMA Network.