Students in action

RowanSOM clinic: Come for the OMM, stay to learn about osteopathic medicine

Seeking to raise awareness of osteopathic medicine and improve their skills, students at RowanSOM started a free community OMM clinic.

For some medical students, osteopathic manipulative medicine is a pain in the butt (probably treatable with OMM). To learn OMM, we fumble through complicated algorithms and awkward classmate encounters. Upon graduating into the “real world” of medicine, we tell our patients we are “like MDs, but with hands-on tools in our toolboxes.” Yet so many of us never use these special tools. As a result, many patients don’t know what DOs are and what OMM can do.

About a year ago, a group of us at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine (RowanSOM) in Stratford, N.J., thought of a way to address these problems: Set up a student-run OMM clinic. The clinic would help spread awareness of osteopathic medicine and OMM to the public. It would also give us experience with the real clinical benefits of OMM, igniting a passion that we can carry with us into our careers.

Students began treating real patients at the RowanSOM Community OMM Clinic last September. In the clinic, we refine our OMM skills by working with an attending physician and upperclassmen mentors. Our patients learn about OMM, receive free treatment for their conditions, and often champion our cause by telling their friends and family about OMM.

Creating a clinic from the ground up wasn’t easy, but the experience has been immensely rewarding. Besides honing our OMM skills, we have learned about health care administration, in particular by developing and implementing ideas for marketing the clinic and enhancing the patient experience. We don’t get this kind of opportunity in the classroom.

If you’re interested in starting your own student-run clinic, here are some tips based on our experience.

Location: If your school has supportive OMM faculty members, they may be willing to help you find a site for your clinic. We hold our clinic at RowanSOM’s NeuroMusculoskeletal Institute, and some of our OMM professors take turns serving as the attending at our twice-monthly Saturday morning sessions. Because the institute is an actual OMM office, we can use its OMM tables and office equipment.

Legal: You’ll need many approvals—to start your clinic, to allow students to participate, to treat patients, to market your services. Expect a snarl of red tape. You will get a thorough lesson in school politics and legalities. Just like mastering your cervical high-velocity, low-amplitude technique, this is a slow and sometimes disheartening process. But when you’re cleared to put your hard work into action, your travails will prove worthwhile.

Funding: You’re going to need money. Where will you get it? So far, we’ve received an $8,000 grant from our school and $1,200 from the New Jersey Association of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons. We will use the money to increase the scope of our clinic, upgrade technology and boost our patient education efforts.

Training: To help students get comfortable treating patients, we held training sessions for first- and second-years. We focused on clinical techniques that would be most useful in treating patients for common dysfunctions, such as low back pain and shoulder issues. Students said the opportunity to apply these techniques in a clinic has been much more satisfying than learning them by rote for an exam.

Marketing: Focus on marketing from the start so you can build an initial base of patients who will spread the word. Your early patients’ recommendations will be invaluable. When you seek patients, target members of your community who have high-yield dysfunctions and lots of friends to tell: firefighters, police officers, veterans and nurses. Go to their group meetings, explain your clinic and demonstrate the techniques on your classmates.

Process development: Once you have a solid foundation, it’s time to get started. Through the summer months we held three test runs. To get ourselves ready for the public, we first treated each other. Then we treated other Rowan students and eventually faculty members and administrators. The test runs helped us optimize patient visit flows and clinic rules before a real patient walked in the door. We felt we had just one chance to impress our new patients, so we wanted their experience to be as close to perfect as possible.

So far we’ve had 10 clinic sessions, exposing about 120 patients to OMM. We’ve become so popular that we are fully booked for clinics for more than a month out. At each session, about 10 student doctors work in pairs and treat a total of about 12 patients. Based on our post-treatment survey, more than 95% of patients would return for more OMM and 90% are very likely to recommend the clinic to others. In the survey, patients also said they felt their experience was more individualized and thorough than their other experiences with doctors.

As the news of our success has spread through the university, students with other passions have volunteered to work for the clinic. In the coming year, we plan to introduce electronic medical records, incorporate music therapy, and offer patients one-on-one meetings with fitness management students and faculty.

One of the biggest lessons we learned has been the value of teamwork and collaboration. Without passionate students believing in and working for this cause, the clinic would never have become a reality. The clinic’s faculty and student participants have been so dedicated, we’ve already had a significant impact on the local community’s health and knowledge of osteopathic medicine. Also, osteopathic medical students at Rowan are much more passionate about OMM now that they’ve helped patients in need with their own hands.

Consider establishing a clinic in your school’s community. Think how much it could help the residents of your area, inspire your fellow medical students to love and practice OMM in their careers, and bring awareness to our field.

Please contact us with any questions at OMMclinic@rowan.edu.

Janki Kapadia, OMS II, and Sameer R. Sood, OMS II, attend the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, N.J. Kapadia and Sood are the directors and founders of the RowanSOM Community OMM Clinic.

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