House of delegates

AOA President Thomas Ely, DO, looks to build unity and pride in the profession

In his inaugural speech as AOA President, Dr. Ely described his unlikely journey to becoming an osteopathic physician and what his top priorities will be this year.


In his inaugural speech as AOA president, Thomas Ely, DO, emphasized his goal of building up osteopathic pride and community during his one-year term.

“You asked to be osteopathic physicians and became osteopathic physicians,” said Dr. Ely, an AOA-board certified family physician and combat veteran. “We must maintain our distinctiveness, and we must engender loyalty and pride in our profession. To do what we must do, we must do it together.”

As the new AOA president, Dr. Ely began by thanking the people who touched his life, influenced him and mentored him, including past AOA presidents as well as members of the AOA Board of Trustees and the Tennessee Osteopathic Medical Association. Without the help of one mentor in particular, he said, he likely wouldn’t be an osteopathic physician today.

Becoming a DO

Dr. Ely explained how his mentor David G. Doane, MD, became the first family medicine consultant to the Army Surgeon General, tasked with integrating the principles of family medicine into the Army Medical Department. During his time in the Army, Dr. Ely was assigned to Dr. Doane’s division as an administrative officer, where they became friends.

During a time when Dr. Ely had given up on becoming a physician, Dr. Doane encouraged him to pursue medicine. With Dr. Doane’s help, Dr. Ely landed an interview at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, where he was accepted and began his journey to become an osteopathic physician.

Facing challenges ahead

Acknowledging what he called the “elephant in the room,” Dr. Ely said the long list of hurdles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly define his term as president. Coupled with that, he said, it is equally important that osteopathic physicians recognize “years of social needs not being met in this country,” affirming the profession’s longstanding commitment to addressing health disparities.

Dr. Ely said his personal challenge will be learning to govern virtually, while working to set higher standards for continuing medical education, board certification and access to care for all patients.

On that note, Dr. Ely outlined the three goals that he will primarily focus on this year. They are:

  1. Expanding the osteopathic profession’s presence through membership. Dr. Ely envisions a future where every osteopathic physician and student belongs to their specialty society, state society and the AOA. In order to get there, the profession must be unified through open and honest communication, he said, adding that students will play an integral role in shaping the future of the profession.
  2. Ensuring continuity in leadership. Dr. Ely pledged to uphold the initiatives of Immediate Past President Ronald Burns, DO, and Past President William Mayo, DO, who focused on membership services and membership value, respectively. Innovations in CME and board certification will continue to be a focus as well, he said, adding that COVID-19 has led to increased demand for online learning solutions.
  3. Continuing to advance Osteopathic Recognition for residency programs nationwide. To that end, Dr. Ely said he plans to monitor the new single GME accreditation system to ensure it continues to open up training opportunities for all graduating osteopathic medical students.

To close, Dr. Ely quoted William Jennings Bryan: “‘Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.’

We all, working together, have the choice to move this profession forward and to demonstrate to the world what we do; to do it better; and to re-instill that great pride of being an osteopathic physician.”

Related reading:

Combat veteran, lifelong leader, family physician: Meet the AOA’s next president

Osteopathic medicine: The AOA House turns 100

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