A family affair

Q&A: The great-great-grandson of A.T. Still, DO, MD, discusses his legacy

Richard Still, DO, who followed in his great-great-grandfather’s footsteps by becoming a DO, discusses his career and shares a family story about Dr. A.T. Still.

A.T. Still, MD, DO, is a name immediately recognized by DOs around the world. His legacy as the founding father of osteopathic medicine lives on today through a profession that has seen tremendous growth over the years. Today, there are nearly 135,000 DOs practicing medicine, as well as nearly 34,000 osteopathic medical students studying at 38 colleges of osteopathic medicine across the nation.

Dr. Still’s legacy also lives on through his descendants, including his great-great-grandson, Richard Still, DO, who followed in his great-great-grandfather’s footsteps by choosing to become an osteopathic physician. Dr. Still retired from the profession in September 2019. The DO recently spoke with Dr. Still about his career and his great-great-grandfather’s legacy. Below is an edited Q&A.

Tell me about your decision to become a physician. Was there a lot of family influence?

My decision to become a physician had a lot to do my exposure to medicine through my father [Dr. A.T. Still’s great-grandson] and grandfather [Dr. A.T. Still’s grandson]. My father was a general practitioner who focused his practice mainly on osteopathic manipulation. I would visit my father’s office and observe him treating patients. The praise and appreciation I observed from his patients was very rewarding and that definitely motivated me to consider becoming a physician.

Richard Still, DO

My grandfather was a psychiatrist at the Still-Hildreth Osteopathic Sanitarium in Macon, Missouri. I would visit my grandparents during the summer and would accompany my grandfather to the hospital to make rounds and have lunch. The patients were very respectful and appreciative of my grandfather and his brother, Fred Still, DO.

All of this was a big influence on my decision to pursue medicine. There was no family pressure for me or my brothers to go into medicine. 

What was it like attending the school of osteopathic medicine that Dr. A.T. Still founded?

It was an honor and privilege to attend ATSU-KCOM, which was founded by my great-great-grandfather. However, it was also intimidating. Everyone knew of my heritage, which made it even more challenging, especially during the first two years. I am not sure I completely realized the magnitude of attending the first school of osteopathic medicine until after I graduated, as the focus at the time was studying, classes and studying even more.

Now, when I return to Kirksville, I walk through the hallways and really appreciate the time spent in school, the memories and the heritage of my great-great-grandfather and his dedication to stand firm with his new philosophy of medicine against all the odds he faced. Now his philosophy is taught in medical schools across the country.

Do you have any stories about Dr. A.T. Still that you’d like to share?

This story was told to me by my grandfather, Richard H. Still Sr., DO [Dr. A.T. Still’s grandson].

One day, the Still family was having a gathering at Dr. A.T. Still’s home. The ladies were in the kitchen preparing the meal, most of the men were out on the front porch talking and smoking and A.T. was in the parlor reading a newspaper. 

There were children playing in the house, and they started sliding down the stair banister. They had to be careful and stop near the end of the banister as there was a large ball on the bottom stair pedestal. Of course, early on, one of the children didn’t stop in time and hit the ball hard and fell to the floor screaming and yelling. A.T. heard the commotion and promptly folded his paper and walked to the foyer to identify the problem.

He stood there and assessed the situation. Understanding the issue at hand, he headed outside to the shed, picked up a saw and returned to the foyer and sawed the ball from the pedestal. He then returned to the parlor and continued to read his newspaper while the children resumed sliding down the banister. As A.T. Still would say, “Find it, fix it and leave it alone.”

Why did you choose urology as your specialty?

Upon graduation from what is now A.T. Still University Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (ATSU-KCOM), I went to Normandy Osteopathic Hospital in St. Louis to start my rotating internship. I did not have an idea of what type of medicine I might want to practice. During my internship it was a process of elimination as I rotated through the services.

It was when I got to my general surgery rotation I realized surgery was the specialty I wished to pursue. I started my residency planning on doing general surgery. However, there were numerous general surgeons in practice, but very few subspecialty surgeons.

During my residency, I worked closely with Dr. Gerhard Flegel, who was the urologist at the hospital. He had a big influence on me and got me interested in the practice of urology. Urology offered both open and endoscopic procedures, which I enjoyed. I elected to complete my general surgery residency and then do a fellowship in urologic surgery in New Jersey.

How did you approach practicing urology osteopathically?

As a urologist, I saw numerous patients with complaints of back pain. They were usually sure it was “their kidneys.” My osteopathic training was an obvious benefit in evaluating these patients. Musculoskeletal examination helped differentiate between renal colic, hepatobiliary, gynecologic or GI disease versus a somatic origin. 

Some patients had seen other urologists who never identified the origin of their back pain. Understanding the viscero-somatic reflex arcs helped to pinpoint the origin of the patient’s pain, which led to appropriate testing and management.

Related reading:

5 stories and artifacts that tell us about the history of osteopathic medicine

What is osteopathic medicine? A unified definition is desperately needed

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