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The D.O. Dialog

Posted Feb 12 2011 12:36pm
I was speed walking down the hall the other day heading towards OMM lab when I overheard a first year say, "You know, if I'd worked harder as an undergraduate I could've been in an MD program." I contemplated turning around and confronting him about what he had just said, but I decided not being late to lab and not being marked absent was more important. But even though this happened a few weeks ago, it's still on my mind because this insult came from a fellow D.O. student. Unfortunately, this hasn't been the only incident of career second guessing I've witnessed. Just a few days ago I was talking to a friend of mine in Pathology lab and she commented on how some of the OMM techniques we've learned are bizarre and that she would feel embarassed about using them on the wards. She asked me, "Don't you think it makes us look bad as doctors?"

In my year and a half as an Osteopathic medical student, I have been asked/told the following:
  • Since you're a D.O. student, do you know how to do acupuncture?
  • I thought Osteopathic doctors were just fancy chiropractors.
  • D.O.s can do surgery? Any kind of surgery?
  • Do you use imaging devices or do you just rely on palpation?
  • Did you go to a D.O. school because you wanted to, or because you couldn't get in anywhere else?

I've had the fortunate experience to participate in some fascinating extra-curriculars while in medical school. I've been able to present a paper at a conference, participate in workshops, and complete a summer fellowship. But in every instance I've been the lone Osteopathic medical representative. It can be a little overwhelming as a student facing a barage of questions (some tinged with criticism and judgment) from physicians and students, but I do my best to hold my ground and do right by the Osteopathic community. It's been an opportunity to engage in some interesting conversations, and I welcome that. In the aforementioned scenarios I've explained that we are not taught acupuncture in our medical education, we are not chiropractors (fancy or otherwise), and yes we can specialize in any field of medicine. While palpation is key in Osteopathic treatments, D.O.s are educated in modern medicine. And yes, I chose to become a D.O. I take each question as a chance to educate and inform, and I fully take on that responsibility (especially here in this blog).

In our "Introduction to Rotations" class medical education directors from our third year clinical sites have been talking to us about their respective hospitals and what to expect during our rotations. And when it comes time to the Q&A session these questions are often asked:
  • Is the hospital D.O. friendly?
  • Is there any competition between the M.D. students and the D.O. students?

This is the reality. I understand that there might be an occasion(s) when I may have to work a little harder to prove myself because the two letters that will follow my name are different. There is some hostility against D.O.s, and recently this hostility was publicly displayed in a blog posted on the Forbes website here.  To summarize, the author wrote a piece entitled "Osteopaths versus Doctors" in which he pointed out his understanding of the differences between M.D.s and D.O.s, concluding that Osteopathic medical programs are inferior to M.D. programs. Personally I found it offensive and misinformed, a dangerous combination in communication. There was a tremendous uproar from the Osteopathic community, which resulted in that same author writing a follow-up piece here . He admitted to the inaccuracies in his first piece, and he seemed receptive to the insight offered in the comments by those affiliated with Osteopathic medicine, but to be honest I wasn't completely convinced. It's hard enough being a medical student, but there's an added burden when others disparage your chosen career. However, I wanted to include a portion of Dr. Nichols' (President of the American Osteopathic Association) response to the original post - a little trivia about Osteopathic physicians that I didn't know before but I thought was really interesting
"Lastly, I will leave you with these facts: a DO assisted in the rescue of the Chilean miners; the chief medical officer of the most recent Olympics was a DO; DOs are serving as the team physicians for several NBA, NHL and MLB teams across the U.S.; the former surgeon general of the U.S. Army was a DO; a DO was part of the first face transplant team at Cleveland Clinic; and DOs have treated U.S. presidents." (Karen J. Nichols, DO; President of the American Osteopathic Association; in response to "Osteopaths versus Doctors")

In my personal experience, the majority of people I meet don't know about or have never heard of Osteopathic medicine. That's okay. What I do appreciate is that they ask me about it and they listen. And at the end of the day my message is this: I want to be a good doctor. I want to excel in patient care. And I felt that Osteopathic medicine would allow me to achieve that.
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