With three postgrad degrees to her name, Carisa Champion, DO, JD, MPH, shows no signs of slowing down. Now in her fourth year of a general surgery residency at the University of Florida, Jacksonville, Dr. Champion is passionate about advocacy and devotes significant time to promoting osteopathic medicine and supporting measures to improve public health. Following is an edited Q&A.
Why did you choose osteopathic medicine?
Osteopathic medicine matched my values. I love the focus on the connection between the mind, body and spirit. That approach is what the general public is looking for today, to be empowered, and to take control of their lives with a focus on whole-person wellness. Also, I want to work in underserved areas, and there’s a big emphasis on working with underserved populations in the osteopathic medical profession.
Why are you excited about osteopathic medicine?
A lot of answers to our health problems lie in the tenets of osteopathic medicine. We’re dealing with so many health issues, from the opiate crisis to burnout and mental illness. Osteopathic medicine is more than a reaction to those needs of the day. It speaks to all of those areas and it always has, because it looks at the whole person, which is in alignment with the direction our country is moving towards.
Why did you decide to pursue three degrees?
In college, I double-majored in international affairs and premed. Once I graduated, I became focused on public health and I wanted to combine all those interests. So I took the MCAT and the LSAT and only applied to DO schools with dual MPH programs and only law schools that offered an emphasis on public health.
Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, offered everything I wanted. I worked with the school to create a DO/MPH/JD program that I could complete in six years, and I did. The process stretched me and it was stressful, but I loved it because I was able to really focus on my passions.
How will you combine your three degrees into your career path?
As a practicing physician—and lawyer with an MPH—I have the opportunity to be involved in advocating for patients, patient care and better public health, whether in the hospital or on Capitol Hill. There are people who work in each of these fields, but when they work together, they can accomplish so much more. With all three of these degrees, I’m able to bring people in these fields together very efficiently.
How are you involved in advocacy?
I often attend DO Day on Capitol Hill and travel to Washington, DC, to lobby with other groups within our profession. I go to Tallahassee to lobby with the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association. As the national chair of the Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents, I coordinated with other medical student groups to launch letter writing campaigns on physician payment reform, residency funding and underserved patients’ health care.
I’ve spoken at DO Day to prep students and physicians to meet with their representatives. The most important part of advocacy is being able to get people to feel empowered that their voice matters and that their voice can make a difference.
What changes would you like to see in osteopathic medicine?
I’d like to see more physicians involved in activism. I’d like to see more engagement within our profession at a grassroots level. The more we can raise awareness of our profession, the more DOs will be sought out for their knowledge. I’d like for our osteopathic tenets to become the industry standard for patient care.
What career accomplishments are you most proud of?
Between college and medical school, I was an intern in the White House, serving in the Presidential Personnel Office where we made recommendations to the president regarding any person who would advise the president on health-related matters. I’ve worked on many mental health task forces, including the AACOM Mental Health Task Force and my residency program’s mental health task force. In law school, I won the National Health Law Transactional Moot Court Competition. And being in a surgery residency is something I’m pretty proud of.
What’s the most rewarding thing about being an osteopathic physician?
We can improve general health instead of just waiting for something to go wrong. We put an emphasis on connecting with our patients. It’s awesome to see the look on a patient’s face when they’ve been living with pain for so long and you’re able to alleviate it. Sometimes there’s a simple answer that can help someone that doesn’t involve taking medicine.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
You can do much more than you think you can.
What advice do you give to aspiring medical students considering osteopathic medicine?
Pursue osteopathic medicine if it aligns with what you want. It’s an amazing profession and I’m grateful to be in it.
What is your inspiration?
My faith and my belief in loving your neighbor and helping them when they’re suffering. And my parents, who are very humble people. They were both nurses. I grew up doing mission work with them. They are genuine. There is no pretense. And I have a little brother who is a Marine.