It has happened to me on several occasions. I have seen and heard the DO skepticism more often than I care to admit. At the very beginning of residency, I was listening to a patient’s heart sounds on a weekend ER shift when the patient inquisitively asked, “What is a DO?” My eyes reflexively flashed down to my badge, and I replied, “Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine.” The conversation continued with me inadequately explaining osteopathic medicine.
Maybe the question caught me off guard, maybe it was intern jitters, but either way, I completely fumbled through my first opportunity to represent the osteopathic community. I completed medical school in Kirksville, Missouri, where DOs are plenty and MDs are few. To this day I couldn’t tell you why I was hesitant; I am a proud osteopathic physician.
I am proud of my medical school, my training and who I am as a physician. I just wasn’t prepared for the question. Luckily this patient became more interested in my ability to help them rather than my training. This same patient established care with me at the residency clinic and I have now had several opportunities to discuss osteopathic particulars.
Many of us have similar experiences where we are hesitant to share who we are and why we are different. In our search for a residency position, many of us asked the question, “Is this program DO-friendly?”
How many exceptions does it take for something to no longer be the exception, but become the rule? This is a large enough problem that last year, the AOA and the American Medical Association released a joint statement to stand against the misrepresentation of osteopathic physicians. This is a step in the right direction.
The AOA has established an advocacy page to help spread the word and curb professional discrimination against DOs. When I first came to residency, I was the only DO in my program and HR initially put MD after my name. I wasn’t at all irritated, it could happen to anyone.
That was the first time I had seen MD behind my name, but it was certainly not the last. I eventually became an expert at conversations explaining how I was the same as my MD co-residents, but also different. Is this an example of groundbreaking advocacy? It is a start, but it isn’t enough.
There continues to be a stigma associated with the osteopathic profession even while we continue to move forward. Our postgraduate residency training is now unified into a single accrediting body under the ACGME. Many said this could never happen. But the problem is not with our progress or achievements. We as osteopathic physicians have achieved an unprecedented level of representation and support in recent years.
We are now part of NASA, the CDC, every branch of the United States Armed Forces and countless hospitals, clinics and organizations throughout the United States. Let’s not forget the innumerable contribution our profession has made while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. We also treat presidents and Olympians.
I personally have found my interactions with patients, MD counterparts and other health care professionals to be overwhelmingly positive. However, time and time again our training is mischaracterized by prominent organizations and news outlets.
At best, this ongoing misrepresentation is sheer elitist ignorance; at worst this is untainted professional discrimination shrouded with the ever-redundant excuse of, “I just wasn’t aware.” The fact that this inexplicably occurs at seemingly regular intervals does raise a red flag.
Are osteopathic physicians purposely targeted? Even if the answer is yes, surely, a few poorly informed rogue individuals wouldn’t intentionally alienate 160,000 DO-trained physicians and medical students during a worldwide pandemic that has already brought the entire world to a screeching halt and threatens to do so yet again.
Hopefully, those who describe our profession as “quackery” would not choose to perpetuate misleading information that may result in further strain on an already taxed health care system. That would be especially irresponsible of those professing to care about the spread of medical misinformation.
Rising to the challenge
I am optimistic that those who discredit our profession are willing to have an open discussion, and I challenge them to use this opportunity for further education. I am only requesting that they have enough insight to ask the questions, before believing they have an answer. I am thankful that our community has representation and has risen to the challenge each and every time we see this misinformation occur.
As for our role in all of this, the osteopathic pledge of commitment states: “Live each day as an example of what an osteopathic physician should be.” The answer lies with us. If we want to be heard, then we need to have the courage to say something.
If we want to make a change, then we need the audacity to do something. It is not enough to agree that there needs to be change. We need to BE that change. The opportunity for advocacy is anywhere that you want to find that opportunity. There is no such thing as small advocacy. Pick your stage and own that stage. Discover that on-fire passion and help show the world who you are.
There are so many opportunities to get involved, including international, federal and state advocacy. Whether you participate in DO Day on Capitol Hill or just take a little extra time to explain to a patient or a coworker what it means to be a DO, that is how we show the world who we are. Our story will be told by someone. It can be the naysayers, elitists and the ill-informed. Or it can be told by those who live it day to day. It is not just me. It is us and we are DO proud. We are DO strong.