Gratitude: Reflections and belonging in the osteopathic family

A natural disaster clarifies the meaning of osteopathic family for a William Carey College of Osteopathic Medicine associate dean.

This essay by Elizabeth K. McClain, PhD, EdS, MPH was originally published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic AssociationIt has been edited for The DO.

At 3:45 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2017, the William Carey University (WCU) campus located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, was directly hit by an F-3 tornado. My husband and I were in Florida attending the Osteopathic Medical Education Leadership conference when the phone calls and text messages began pouring in just before the tornado touched down.

My first concern, as a parent, was for the safety of our children, who were home and in the direct path of the storm in Hattiesburg. Within moments, the path of the storm shifted and, with it, my concern shifted to my second family—my osteopathic medical students, my colleagues, WCU staff—as well as all those who were near the WCU Campus.

All through the morning I responded to texts from students and reached out to faculty and staff, but I felt helpless being so far away.

My perceived vulnerability was far from my reality.

Elizabeth McClain, PhD

I had a family of osteopathic leaders willing to listen to me, to be present with me, and to “walk with me” through these emotions and first moments. The depth of caring clearly present in those around me reflected the humanism and mindfulness that we as trainers and educators try so diligently to integrate into our students’ medical education and future clinical practice.

As I reflected on these osteopathic leaders, I thought about the diversity of that group that surrounded me with support. There were leaders and individuals from the American Osteopathic Association, the Association of American Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, as well as various osteopathic medical schools and medical student groups who reached out and offered their help and support.

The intent, caring and action was honest, pure and driven. In the months following the tornado, I also reflected on the individuals who had selflessly offered that wave of support. Did they fit into what I had always considered part of the osteopathic family? Although many did fit my original definition, I began to realize that the osteopathic family included a unique level of breadth and diversity that I had failed to see before.

This experience changed me, and I must assume it changed everyone who was involved. How could it not? Through this natural disaster, I truly understood what it meant to be a part of the osteopathic family. Osteopathic medicine does define us, but the experience is much more complex than DO letters.

It is a belief in the human experience and how that experience affects all aspects of health and wellness. It is an understanding that individuals need compassion and care in illness and in health. It is the willingness to be present, embrace diversity in mind, body and spirit and accept individual differences as strengths. It is the willingness to serve others without question. Above all, it is the ability to value the true sense of community.

Read the essay in its original form at JAOA.org.

Leave a comment Please see our comment policy