Earlier this month, the AOA deployed an aggressive communications response aimed at correcting inaccuracies in the media and combatting the spread of misinformation on social media following the spotlight on White House Physician and Navy Commander Sean Conley, DO.
Just after the Dr. Conley coverage began to wane, an offensive advertisement for the medical apparel retailer FIGS that targeted DOs also sparked significant media coverage, much of which the AOA helped facilitate.
Among other efforts, the AOA coordinated interviews with top-tier media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times and Kaiser Health News and encouraged members of the osteopathic medical profession to author op-eds about osteopathic medicine. At the same time, many members of the osteopathic medical profession mobilized with their own efforts to educate the public about DOs on social media and blogs.
The result was a number of in-depth and accurate descriptions of who DOs are and what they do in respected and widely read publications—a list of notable pieces is below.
Internal medicine physician Bradley Flansbaum, DO, MPH, was aghast at the coverage of Dr. Conley, especially comments that attacked the DO degree and implied that DOs aren’t real physicians.
“It was demeaning,” he says. “Everything we do and what we represent was denigrated by the way he was portrayed. A degree should not be politicized like that. Dr. Conley’s DO degree is immaterial to his statements as physician to the president.”
Dr. Flansbaum and his internist colleague Joshua Lenchus, DO, RPH, wrote an op-ed for KevinMD that condemned the coverage, provided education about who DOs are, and called for the house of medicine to come together to defend physicians against such attacks. So far, the article has been shared over 2,000 times.
“What motivated us to write that piece was the fact that we felt that we had moved beyond these disparaging comments,” Dr. Lenchus says. “And to see people in the media and celebrities post completely ignorant mischaracterizations of the education that we have and our degree was too much to sit by and let go without doing something.”
After publishing the piece, Drs. Lenchus and Flansbaum shared it with leaders at the Council of Medical Specialty Societies, which ultimately adapted parts of the article to create a statement in support of osteopathic physicians. Thirty-one specialty societies—which likely represent over half a million physicians—signed the statement.
“It’s a rather powerful statement in support of us professionally,” says Dr. Flansbaum. “It’s heartening to see everyone in medicine saying we are brothers and sisters, we stand together, we support one another.”
Dr. Lenchus is hopeful that this moment has provided an opportunity for more people to recognize the legitimacy of the DO degree and respect what DOs do.
“I hope that there’s a new awareness of the fact that we are well-educated, uniquely equipped physicians who are taking care of people every single day,” he says.
Positive coverage of osteopathic medicine
In addition to the KevinMD piece by Dr. Flansbaum and Dr. Lenchus, osteopathic medicine has received significant and accurate coverage in a number of widely read publications. Following is a list of recent articles.
- The Los Angeles Times published an explainer about osteopathic medicine featuring a quote and information provided by AOA CEO Kevin Klauer, DO, EJD, that also ran on Yahoo! News. Notable line: “In osteopathic medical schools, future DOs are taught to take a holistic approach to their patient’s care rather than just treating an ailment.”
- Kaiser Health News’ in-depth article examines the historic stigma against DOs and includes a detailed overview of osteopathic medicine and quotes from three DO sources, including Dr. Klauer.
From the article: “[Dr. Klauer] said he’s heard from many fellow osteopathic physicians outraged that [Dr. Conley]—and by extension, they, too—are not considered real doctors.
“‘You may or may not like that physician, but you don’t have the right to completely disqualify an entire profession,’ [Dr. Klauer] said.”
- The American Medical Association published an article that unpacked and castigated the offensive FIGS ad. It noted that the AMA stands with all MD and DO women in medicine and provided clarifying information about the DO degree. From the article:
“In terms of the requirements to apply to MD and DO programs, the criteria are virtually the same. The 2020 Main Residency Match marked the completion of the transition to a single accreditation system and the consolidation to one Match for U.S. DO seniors and graduates.”
- This USA Today article explains the key differences between DOs and MDs via a Q&A with Bill Pieratt, DO, dean and chief academic officer at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine in Las Cruces, New Mexico. In the article, which also ran in the Las Cruces Sun-News, Dr. Pieratt says:
“MD and DO physicians train alongside each other in residency, they practice alongside each other, and they often participate in the care of a given patient together.”
- Washington Post: Following a request from the AOA, this article about Dr. Conley was corrected to clarify that osteopathic physicians can practice in every specialty area. It provides the following information: “Conley is a doctor of osteopathic medicine, with similar training to medical doctors and the same authority to prescribe medicines. One key difference is osteopathic training also focuses on the relationship of the bones and the body and on treatment of the musculoskeletal system.”
- The National Interest: Andrea Amalfitano, DO, dean of the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, explains the guiding principles and foundations of osteopathic medicine in an op-ed.
Notable quote: “DOs pride themselves on making sure their patients feel they’re treated as a whole person and not simply reduced to a symptom or blood test to be rapidly dealt with and then dismissed.”
- KevinMD: Amelia Bueche, DO, wrote an op-ed that discusses what expanded awareness of and access to osteopathic medicine might do for patients and for society. She writes:
“Developed at a time when the baseline medical practice was lacking and offered as an answer to the beckoning call for a new perspective on methods of practice, osteopathic medicine is itself a call to curiosity and creativity.”
The AOA created the video below, which provides an overview of the inaccurate coverage and responses from real-world DOs.
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DOs are 11 percent of the physician workforce and are equivalent to MDs. Misleading statements by the media and even public figures undermine their credibility, and have hurt more than 151,000 doctors and medical students even as many serve on the front lines during a pandemic. Please share and help this country separate fact from fiction.