From matriculation through residency and fellowship and everything in between, Robert A. Cain, DO, the newly appointed president and CEO of the American Association of the Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), is passionate about the osteopathic learning environment and inspiring the next generation of leaders in the profession.
“We have a real opportunity with osteopathic medical education to produce DOs who help patients live well and don’t just treat sickness or disease,” Dr. Cain says.
Before taking on the role of AACOM’s president and CEO, Dr. Cain most recently served as the associate dean for clinical education at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine as well as the chief academic officer for the Ohio Centers of Osteopathic Research and Education (CORE), a statewide medical education consortium.
The following is an edited Q+A with Dr. Cain about how he envisions AACOM and osteopathic medical education moving forward.
Why did you decide to become a DO?
I was influenced by a group of physicians when I was in college. I was attracted to the story of osteopathic medicine and the pride DOs had in their profession. What ultimately swayed me was the philosophy of not just treating sickness or disease but finding health.
How did your experiences in so many different sides of medical education prepare you for this role?
I’ve been very lucky to be part of a couple of high-performing organizations that structured themselves for the future. They had strong beliefs about the values of leadership and development and built teams not just for today, but for the future, which allowed me to gain organizational behavior and operations experience.
Because the majority of my career has been in graduate medical education, this role really allows me to work backward. Our students have to complete graduate medical education in order to become licensed practicing physicians, so we’re going to ensure that students are best prepared to match into those positions because there’s a lot of competition.
What are your priorities for AACOM?
Now that we’re operating in the single GME system, we have to continue to support the evolution of the osteopathic learning environment. We have to understand and continually talk about how our students can practice osteopathically and support MDs who are interested in GME programs with osteopathic recognition.
As we continue to grow, we will also be looking to make sure we have adequate leaders for our colleges of osteopathic medicine.
We also need to consider how osteopathic medical education can transform in the clinical environment. We need to pay more attention to doctors in teaching hospitals, who oftentimes volunteer their time to help students during medical school. We can’t produce DOs without them.
What are some of the challenges AACOM will need to tackle in the future?
We need to make sure we have a sufficient number of quality clinical rotations for our students. We need to understand the challenges of teaching in today’s clinical learning environment. We need to ensure clinical education promotes the advancement of osteopathic principles and practice through role modeling and practice.
How did you transition from being a physician in practice to executive leadership?
There was an opening for a program director in the internal medicine residency at Grandview Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, and my colleagues encouraged me to go for it. I wanted to teach and I was passionate about leadership development—as I remain today. I moved into the role with absolutely no experience or training, but I figured out what worked and what didn’t work on the job.
The move from clinical medicine to executive leadership was subtle. As a program director, things were going well, and the hospital president felt I should become the next director of medical education. At the time, I was still trying to practice as a physician and my practice was designed to be very proactive in the way we managed patients. Over time, I found it increasingly difficult to give patients the care I thought they deserved. In 2008, I closed my practice, and I stopped seeing patients altogether in 2010. I loved that in practice I could influence one patient at a time, but I realized I had the potential to influence so many more as the director of medical education.
How have you seen the profession grow since you started your career?
I made a very conscious decision to be a DO. I recognized that I was entering into a pathway to be a physician that, at the time, wasn’t necessarily looked favorably upon by the general population and other health care providers. Before, there were questions about our medical knowledge and ability to deliver quality patient care, but things slowly began to change. We began to see more and more DOs training in MD residencies, and we proved we were able to perform at the level of our MD counterparts.
Now we have MD students look at our DO students and say, “I want to learn what you’re learning.” I’ve heard the same stories from practicing MDs who want to learn more about osteopathic medicine. They have an appreciation for it and see how it’s making a difference in patients. That’s an evolution to me. We are now in the position that people are talking about osteopathic medicine in more places than I would have ever imagined.