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Overlooked and underplayed: Profession fights to promote itself better

During his “60 Minutes” commentary on April 25, Andy Rooney bemoaned the overspecialization of physicians. Without acknowledging osteopathic physicians, he declared, “We need more medical schools that graduate doctors who specialize in everything and nothing—the whole body, not just one part.”

Giving out hand sanitizer in downtown Chicago

To help build public awareness of osteopathic medicine, the AOA’s Chioma Echeumuna (right) gives AOA-branded hand sanitizer to passersby in downtown Chicago during National Osteopathic Medicine Week in April. Echeumuna is the laboratory accreditation specialist for the AOA’s Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program. (Photo by Patrick Sinco)

Dr. Pham

During National Osteopathic Medicine Week, Noah T. Lee, DO, helps a student listen to her classmate’s heartbeat. On April 22, the AOA brought several DOs and osteopathic medical students to Clifford Johnson Elementary School in Warrenville, Ill., to teach students about medicine and healthy habits. (Photo by Patrick Sinco)

More vexing, a front-page article on the surge in U.S. medical schools in The New York Times in February failed to recognize the fastest growing element of medical education—osteopathic medical colleges. And in April, an article on the shortage of primary care physicians in The Wall Street Journal neglected to mention the osteopathic medical profession’s focus on family medicine.

Although both the AOA and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) report better press recognition of osteopathic medicine than in the past, oversights and slights persist, compelling the AOA and other osteopathic medical organizations to be vigilant and quick with letters of rebuttal to editors.

“Andy Rooney was describing what osteopathic physicians already do,” notes Pierre Bellicini, the director of communications and marketing for the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) in Erie, Pa. After viewing Rooney’s “What Happened to Family Doctors?” segment, Bellicini helped rally colleagues in the osteopathic medical profession to use Rooney’s remarks as a springboard for educating CBS and other media outlets about the DO difference and the profession’s traditional focus on primary care.

Part of the problem, according to Bellicini, is that layoffs at major newspapers have turned the remaining reporters into jacks-of-all-trades, making it less likely that a reporter covering health care will be aware of osteopathic medicine. In addition, many newspapers, magazines and broadcast news entities have style policies dictating that the generic Dr. title be used for all physicians, without noting their particular degrees. Such policies reinforce the misconception that the MD degree is the only one synonymous with physician.

But the osteopathic medical profession faces even higher hurdles, Bellicini notes. Despite the rapid growth in osteopathic medical schools, MDs still outnumber DOs 10-to-1. And osteopathic physicians are divided over whether to align themselves with or distinguish themselves from allopathic physicians.

The AOA’s 2006-07 president, the late John A. Strosnider, DO, understood this divide. In conceiving the AOA’s Greatness Fund, he envisioned that a significant share of it would be used for a national television advertising campaign, which would allow the AOA to trumpet a specific message about osteopathic medicine to a vast audience. But the recession, which prompted the AOA to suspend fund-raising temporarily, squelched this dream for the time being. Although the Greatness Fund has been reinstated and a Greatness Campaign task force last December recommended budgeting for a pilot ad program in one state, “there is no funding for any advertising initiatives at present,” says Karyn Szurgot, the AOA’s director of communications.

However, Kelli M. Ward, DO, MPH, a family physician from Lake Havasu City, Ariz., contends that advertising should be a funding priority for the AOA. “If the profession is ever going to do national TV advertising, now is the time because of the prominence of primary care in health care reform,” says Dr. Ward, the president of the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association. She notes that nurse practitioners and physician assistants have done a better job than DOs in promoting themselves as the answer to the physician shortage.

Physicians in general tend to be uncomfortable promoting themselves, observes Ned Rosch, JD, the executive director of the Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation (NWOMF), agreeing that some nonphysician clinician groups have been much more aggressive in their marketing initiatives. “Why do people think of chiropractors first rather than DOs when they have backaches?” he asks.

Virginia M. Johnson, DO, is convinced that her profession’s internal identity struggles paralyze promotional initiatives. “Fundamentally, if we don’t get our own house clean—if our graduates don’t care about the heritage of our profession—how can we raise public awareness of osteopathic medicine?” asks Dr. Johnson, who practices neuromusculoskeletal and osteopathic manipulative medicine in Santa Monica, Calif.

“For years the profession has been trying to establish itself as different or distinctive,” says Al Turner, DO, an OMM specialist in Portland, Ore. “In reality, many osteopathic physicians are no different in thought or practice than our allopathic colleagues.”

Strengthening identity

Dennis J. Dowling, DO, who specializes in OMM in Syosset, N.Y., points out that many of his referred patients don’t even realize when their primary care physicians are DOs. “One key way to promote the profession is for DOs to talk about osteopathic principles with their patients—the importance of looking at the whole person, the interrelationship of structure and function, the body’s inherent healing properties,” says Dr. Dowling, a former president of the American Academy of Osteopathy and a member of the editorial advisory board of JAOA—The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

To educate new patients about the profession, Dr. Turner gives them the AOA’s “What Is a DO?” and “Osteopathic Medicine” brochures as a starting point for deeper discussions on how OMM can contribute to health.

9 Responses

  1. Tweets that mention The DO | Overlooked and underplayed: Profession fights to promote itself better -- on June 4, 2010, 2:07 p.m.

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  2. bryan on June 7, 2010, 3:16 p.m.

    What about a 30 second super bowl ad? I wish I were joking, but it seems like that would be a pretty effective way to get millions of people to know what a DO is and that we are real doctors.

  3. I love my DO on July 2, 2010, 9:18 a.m.

    Until that 10-1 ration is significantly reduced, and until DOs consistently offer OSTEOPATHIC medical treatment to patients, what good is high profile advertising? First, finding a DO is difficult; then finding one really grounded in OPP and willing and able to use OMM is harder still.
    I feel grassroots promotion of the profession–news stories in local papers and on local radio stations–remains the best approach at present. People are still reading their community newspapers, and testimonials remain the best, cheapest, and most effective form of promotion. The American Osteopathic Association has many resources available to DOs to guide and aid in this effort.
    I know Byran is just joking, but you simply cannot convey the “DO difference” in 30 seconds…and every DO should convey that difference!

  4. suzan beene on July 9, 2010, 10:39 p.m.

    *please clarify for my husband, AND THE REST OF THE WORLD- regardless of what i show him,or what other Dr’s,including MD’s/plastic surgeons,chiropractors, nurses,u name it,try to explain & educate him that DOCTORS of OSTEOPATHY ARE REAL DOCTORS…my HUSBAND is still convinced that DO’s r not’real doctors’,cannot write presciptions(well that would be a shock to mine!)& is convinced that DO’s r lower on the food chain than PA’s!!for the life of him he will not &/or cannot grasp the principles that DO’s practice,let alone that they are REAL practicing PHYSICIANS!**CONSEQUENTLY I TOTALLY agree that AGGRESSIVE ADVERTISING(INSTITUTIONAL in nature;targeted properly via demographics) 4 THE EDUCATION needed to PROVIDE THE NOW NECESSESARY WELL DESERVED POSITIVE IMAGE that DO’s deserve as well as providing the CLARIFICATION people need(re:D.O’s)& at least EDUCATE THE GENERAL PUBLIC;NO DOUBT A NEW POSITIVE OUTLOOK FOR THE PUBLIC AND ALL DO’S WILL ONLY RESULT IN GREAT THINGS FOR EVERYONE.

  5. Kenneth E. Johnson on Sept. 8, 2010, 6:59 p.m.

    As a board certified DO Ob/Gyn I did my residency in a M.D. program affiliated with Northwestern University Medical School. Only DO’s can train at both DO or MD residencies. This might help those who doubt the full practice rights of DO’s in America. If you want to learn more about the very exciting profession as a DO physician, go to my blog at or contact me personally at

  6. Protect The Physician on Oct. 30, 2010, 12:50 p.m.

    With regards to the above, I’d like to answer your questions with some I’ve heard that I’m tired of having to answer the following to my colleagues, patients and family members:

    “Are DOs that bad that they need an institution like the NBOME to “Protect the Public” from them? The MDs NBME is interested in SERVING the public and it’s membership; why is the Osteopathic field so different?”

    “If DOs are as qualified as MDs, why do they have to spend an extra year of residency training in certain states that their own leaders say is to make sure they’re competent and professional enough to practice medicine alongside the MD’s?”

    “If the COMLEX is really as valid as the USMLE, why do so many more Osteopathic students have difficulty with the COMLEX, while they actually do very well on the USMLE?”

    The trend for Osteopathic students is now to take the amateur-quality COMLEX as many times as it takes to pass all three steps, and hope you never get sued as the best evidence against you as a practicing DO will be provided by the NBOME saying that you’ve failed your licensing exams several times; instant win for the plaintiff. You’ll head to an Allopathic Residency program that you’re more competitive for after you graduate from your Osteopathic medical school because of your USMLE score and never look back at the DO world afterward. The Doctor of Nursing Practice degree-holders and the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists will indeed supplant the DO more than any other health professional, because as under-qualified as they are to do our jobs, they couldn’t possibly be as bad as we DOs make ourselves out to be.

    As we focus on relicensing standards and increasing the amount of visibility DOs have in the public eye, let’s make sure we’re not scaring them off in the process. Why would most news venues obviously shun the DO world when they talk of wanting to treat the whole person as if it’s something new? Our leadership is stubborn and incredibly difficult to deal with for a lot more people than Andy Rooney who has put up with quite a lot as he’s observed a lot in his career; I’m sure he knows we exist.

    Let’s act as a group and disband the NBOME so that we can focus on the real medicine again instead of on a juvenile copy of the NBME without any of it’s class or sophistication.
    Let’s act as a group and ALL DROP MEDICARE for the good of the profession and our patients.
    Let’s act as a group and stop taking referrals from providers that use DNPs, PAs or CRNAs to DIRECTLY REPLACE physicians.

    Osteopathy is very powerful but must be taught as an apprenticeship and if not continued into residency, it will cease to continue at all. If we’re ready to let Osteopathy die through attrition into the much more welcoming and logical MD world that our students are escaping to in haste to be reborn to also escape it’s leaders’ ignorance, so be it. Please prove me wrong if you’re truly doubtful; I promise it will be an exercise in futility that will incite the same feeling of rebellion in you. Isn’t a rebellion against a system that was harmful to its patients how our history was born?

    Sleep well tonight my fellow Osteopaths, for tomorrow must be a day of action before it’s too late…

  7. RSConrad,DO on April 3, 2011, 6:32 p.m.

    With promotion of our Osteopathic Profession comes the challenge of the AOA to produce what they promote.
    DO is Different…do we have enough DOs to give the public what they will expect…a different kind of healthcare?
    As I see it, the majority of DOs today are practicing allopathic medicine. The DIFFERENCE can only happen in our osteopathic schools and postdoctural training programs.
    We have a long way to go to produce the TRUE difference that our amazing profession has at it’s very core…a uniquely different identity…Osteopathy. Let’s teach that in our schools, and expect our students to practice it. Then we may well be able to meet the demand that NO DOUBT will come with more intense promotion. This is the real issue, isn’t it…why our leadership’s osteopathic feet are dragging along…holding back.

  8. new york times osteopathic schools on May 1, 2011, 12:32 a.m.

    […] The DO | Overlooked and underplayed: Profession fights to promote … Jun 4, 2010 … To help build public awareness of osteopathic medicine, the AOA's … More vexing, a front-page article on the surge in U.S. medical schools in The New York Times in February … […]

  9. Tayson DeLengocky, DO on May 11, 2011, 9:01 p.m.

    I believe that social media network is a great tool to promote our profession and brand.

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