Promoting DOs: Words, medium change, but message stays the same
It’s the most common question AOA family members hear from people unfamiliar with the profession. Whether on an airplane, at a summer barbecue, or even at a meeting of the World Health Organization, people ask, “What is a DO?”
At the AOA, we teach the public that DOs are osteopathic physicians, and we promote the benefits of osteopathic principles and practice. But some DOs have raised an interesting question in return: What does osteopathic mean? A DO anesthesiologist may not use osteopathic manipulative treatment every day—or ever. Does this make him or her any less osteopathic than a DO who performs OMT every day? How do we distinguish a nonphysician osteopath from the United Kingdom or an MD who learns OMT techniques from a DO colleague? Are these professionals osteopathic?
What is osteopathy?
The AOA House of Delegates has been answering multilayered questions like this for many years. At its annual meeting in July, the House passed Resolution 301 (A/2010) (PDF), which revises the AOA’s position on the terms osteopath and osteopathy.
Previously, the policy stated that osteopathy and osteopathic medicine could be used interchangeably. The revised policy calls for osteopathic medicine and osteopathic physician to be used preferentially over the traditional terms. Osteopath and osteopathy can still be used in “historical, sentimental and informal discussions” and to refer to previously named entities in the profession and to foreign-trained osteopaths with a limited scope of practice.
Six AOA bureaus, committees and councils reviewed and commented on this policy’s new iteration. They aimed to preserve the traditional terms while recognizing the profession’s considerable evolution since the 19th century.
What is a DO?
DOs have progressed greatly over the years, from being manipulation practitioners to trail-blazing health care researchers. Yet confusion persists over the terms osteopathic physician, osteopath, osteopathic medicine and osteopathy—even in organizations as prestigious as the World Health Organization. The uncertainty surrounding these terms is partially explained by wide-ranging practice scopes for osteopathic physicians and nonphysician osteopaths around the world.
However, the larger issue isn’t what we call ourselves—it’s what members of the public call us, if they know what to call us at all.
Within the AOA, the Bureau of Communications and the Division of Media Relations are devoted to increasing the visibility of osteopathic medicine by educating reporters and other members of the news media, both in print and online. Through news releases, pitches to the media and advertisements, we educate the public and the media about DOs. Many DOs serve in our Media Spokesperson Network and in the Osteopathic Public Awareness Network as volunteer advocates who reach out to local news outlets to share information about the profession.
The huge boom in online social media means we now can do a lot more to promote DOs—with a lot less investment. In this technological age, we can avail ourselves of more resources than ever to promote DOs in the public realm and spread the word about osteopathic medicine.
Our online outreach extends to such popular Web destinations as Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. This year, we’ve posted videos featuring AOA leaders, news releases and public health alerts, among many other online outreach efforts. On YouTube, we house a wealth of public health videos featuring DOs, giving a face and a voice to the osteopathic medical profession while teaching the public about important health topics.
We’ve added LinkedIn, the online hub for professionals in all fields, to the AOA’s social network this year. Twitter has brought us closer to DOs, osteopathic medical students and friends of the profession. The DO, the AOA Grassroots Osteopathic Advocacy Link (better known as GOAL) and the AOA Greatness Corps all have dedicated Twitter feeds. And more than 5,000 people “like” our fan page on Facebook, with new supporters coming almost every day.
What is osteopathic medicine?
Questions about the meanings of the terms osteopath and osteopathy address the soul of osteopathic medicine.
Our profession’s founder, Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO, addressed these questions in his autobiography. Chapter 8 follows Dr. Still as he starts to spread the word about osteopathic medicine. He writes about the people who called him crazy and accused him of “hoodledooing.” But Dr. Still just let his osteopathic medical skills answer for him, healing patients by encouraging their bodies’ own curative powers. More and more people began to see the benefits of osteopathic medicine.
Rather than rely on drugs and traditional treatments, Dr. Still steadfastly used OMT and the power of his hands to treat—and heal—doubters far and wide. By sticking to the fundamentals of osteopathy, he ensured the profession’s future. Just as we follow Dr. Still’s science, we can follow his example for public outreach. We won’t get noticed for being just like MDs—we’ll get noticed for being different, for being distinct, for being the best-trained physicians in the world. The AOA will continue to reach out to promote that DO difference. With your help, we can DO it!