Defending the osteopathic profession against misrepresentation, scope encroachment and more

The AOA’s new annual report outlines recent advocacy efforts in these areas and also details the organization’s efforts to fight discrimination against osteopathic medical students and residents.

During the 2020-2021 fiscal year, DOs and osteopathic medical students faced numerous stresses, including legislative efforts to encroach on their scope of practice and widespread misrepresentation of their profession in the media. They met these challenges while simultaneously navigating a global pandemic — with many members of the profession serving on the front lines and volunteering to aid others.

The AOA 2020-2021 Annual Report (PDF) outlines these potential setbacks and details how the organization worked with affiliates and members of the profession to fight them. The report also provides an overview of the AOA’s recent endeavors in osteopathic education, training, research and board certification, along with additional information about AOA advocacy efforts in other areas.

Following are some highlights of the Annual Report.

Advocacy at the state level leads to defeat of scope expansion legislation

In FY21, the AOA partnered with osteopathic affiliates to send more than 20 grassroots alerts and more than 30 letters covering 18 legislative issues to lawmakers and osteopathic physicians in 28 states. So far, these activities have resulted in 13 advocacy wins, including:

• Enhanced coverage and payment for telemedicine in Arkansas and Maryland.

• Defeat of non-physician clinician scope of practice expansion legislation in Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Federal advocacy wins include GME funding and delayed Medicare cuts

This year, DO Day meetings with lawmakers and staff helped secure wins on three major issues:

• $330 million increase in funding for the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) Program.

• Senate passage of the Dr. Lorna Breen Provider Protection Act.

• Delay of the 2% sequestration cut in Medicare payments planned for March 2021 until the end of the year.

The profession fought back against media misrepresentation

In October, the osteopathic medical profession came under fire when the credentials of Sean Conley, DO, who served as physician to former President Donald Trump, were questioned by members of the media and some celebrities. Several media reports incorrectly implied that osteopathic physicians (DOs) are less qualified than allopathic physicians (MDs).

In response, the AOA’s staff and Board of Trustees mobilized an aggressive internal and external campaign to set the record straight and correct inaccuracies across print, television and social media channels, resulting in 838,000 social media impressions and dozens of corrections in media outlets, including the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.

The profession fought back against offensive advertising

Last fall, a digital advertisement for FIGS, a professional scrub manufacturing company, showed a scrubs-clad woman wearing a “DO” name badge and holding an upside-down copy of a book titled “Medical Terminology for Dummies.” In response to this insulting and defamatory representation of DOs and female physicians, the AOA demanded immediate removal of the ad. Within hours, the AOA initiated contact with the three principal owners of the company to discuss the offensive ad and outline a path forward that included:

• A published statement of apology.

• OMED attendance by 15 members of the FIGS marketing team to gain a more accurate and informed understanding of the osteopathic profession.

• A $100,000 donation in support of the AOA’s efforts toward advancing diversity and gender equity in medicine, and enhancing understanding of the osteopathic profession.

Support of osteopathic medical students and residents facing discrimination leads to policy updates within institutions

The AOA continually advocates on behalf of osteopathic medical students and residents who encounter discrimination from audition rotation sites and residency programs that exclude DO applicants. In the past year, AOA advocacy has led to policy updates at the following institutions to end discriminatory practices and expand opportunities for osteopathic applicants:

Washington University: Corrected restrictive application language that excluded DOs from eligibility for clinical rotations.

University of Virginia: Updated published criteria for the UVA internal medicine residency program to include DOs.

San Francisco Plastic Surgery Match: Expanded requirements for the San Francisco Plastic Surgery Residency Matching Program to include DO applicants eligible for AOA Board Certification.

Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS): Corrected published language excluding osteopathic medical students from clinical rotations.

Johns Hopkins: Addressed inequitable registration fees for visiting medical students from non-LCME accredited schools participating in clinical electives.

University of Southern Alabama: Interceded to challenge the practice of excluding osteopathic medical students from participating in orthopedics and general surgery rotations.

Albert Einstein College of Medicine: Worked with school officials to reverse inequitable policies excluding osteopathic medical students from rotations.

University of New Mexico: Updated published application requirements to include both DO and MD candidates for visiting student rotations.

Related reading:

Full text: The AOA 2020-21 Annual Report (PDF)

For the first time, DOs and osteopathic medical students are over 168K strong


  1. Michael Baron, DO

    Thank you to the AOA for being aggressive about issues of discrimination, misrepresentation and limitation to osteopathic students and osteopathic doctors. I appreciate that my dues are being utilized to help the profession.

  2. Paul Viola

    I am interested in becoming a physician (for the past thirty years, literally since kindergarten – my father was a physician trained in the Philippines with rotating and general surgery internships in Maryland).

    While I have not decided whether or not to apply to either MD or DO schools or a combination of the same, I have known about osteopathic medicine at the very latest since the late 90’s. I am happy to stand with the American Osteopathic Association and state societies in defending the osteopathic medical profession (as it is practiced in the U.S., with full license to use medicine and surgery in addition to OMM) against misinformation, and use my social media frequently to re-post articles concerning osteopathic medicine in the U.S. (as opposed to osteopathy in Commonwealth and other countries).

    Paul Viola

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