National Women Physicians Day

New osteopathic surgery college president discusses being a DO in surgery

Kristen Conrad-Schnetz, DO, is proud of the unique skills, including OMT, that she brings to surgery as an osteopathic physician.


Historically, the surgical specialties have tended to be male-dominated. However, leaders in the surgery world are noting that this is changing with the new generation of physicians. It is also changing in the realm of leadership. Kristen Conrad-Schnetz, DO, was recently installed as the president of the American College of Osteopathic Surgeons (ACOS).

In addition to her role as president, Dr. Conrad-Schnetz is also an assistant professor of surgery at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, the program director of the general surgery residency at Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital and the director for the department of surgery at Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital.

As a proud advocate for osteopathic medicine, Dr. Conrad-Schnetz uses osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) in her surgical practice and teaches her residents to do the same. She has also been instrumental in creating and co-leading the ACOS Women Surgeons Forum, which is held annually in conjunction with the ACOS Annual Clinical Assembly.

On top of her busy schedule, Dr. Conrad-Schnetz volunteers on multiple committees and consistently engages with students and residents to help them progress in their surgical careers. She is an inspiring individual, leader and surgeon, who is dedicated to advancing the field of osteopathic surgery and helping others succeed in their careers. She is also an active member of her community.

Ahead of National Women Physicians Day (Feb. 3), The DO is proud to highlight Dr. Conrad-Schnetz and her leadership role. In this interview, she shares her vision for the ACOS and gives insight into her leadership philosophy and passion for osteopathic medicine and surgery.

Tell us about your training and the experiences that have led you to this point in your career.

I always knew I wanted to go to medical school. During my undergraduate studies at the University of Akron, I shadowed a DO who used OMT. I was immediately impressed and became inspired to pursue osteopathic medicine. I only applied to osteopathic medical schools, and was accepted to my number one choice, what is now Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-HCOM). During my time at OU-HCOM, I thoroughly enjoyed my clinical rotations.

Dr. Conrad-Schnetz

I matched into the general surgery residency program at South Pointe Hospital and completed training in 2014. I went on to pursue surgical critical care and completed one year of fellowship training at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. Then I became dually board certified in general surgery and surgical critical care. 

After the fellowship, I stayed on as staff at MetroHealth, where I was the first DO surgeon in the division of trauma, acute care surgery and burns, as well as the entire department of surgery. I was recruited back to Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital three years after I graduated to become the general surgery residency program director in 2018. I led the program to earn ACGME accreditation for surgery. I also led the program’s effort to earn osteopathic recognition, which was successful. Throughout my career, I have accepted challenges and responsibilities that I have been presented with. Doing so has allowed for immense growth, and this mentality has led me to where I am now.

What inspired you to pursue surgery?

I originally had every intention to become an osteopathic family physician. However, I became more open to other specialties during my third year of medical school, because I loved every rotation. Ultimately, I found that I loved the relationships I had with my patients during my surgery rotation. The relationships we have with our patients in surgery are built upon a profound and unique sense of trust. I discovered fulfillment in being there for patients throughout what most would consider the scariest times of their lives.

What specific challenges did you face during your training as a DO and as a person who identifies as a woman in the field of surgery?

I own my “osteopathic-ness.” I always have, and I admire when others do the same. It gives me great advantage in that I have been taught how to be an empathic, compassionate physician from day one of my training. Throughout my career, I have always felt people view me as a qualified candidate and professional. Even when opportunities may have been limited due to the requirements needed to pursue certain training programs, there were never any true instances in which I felt disadvantaged.

I am an optimist at heart and truly believe there is a solution for any problem. I had an extremely supportive program and people recognized my approach when I interacted with them. There have been times when I have felt my voice was not heard compared to my male or MD counterparts, but I never let this discourage me. I have employed mindfulness, resilience and optimism to demonstrate my competence and capability and have earned the trust of those with whom I interact.

If you do experience discrimination or negative treatment as a DO, I would attribute that to ignorance and lack of education of others. Sometimes this is intentional, but many times it is not. It is our role to pursue excellence in what we do and educate others about our unique training.

Tell me about your new role as president of the ACOS – what does it mean to you?

My presidency is 12 months, but the success of the college will take my lifetime. It is truly an honor to serve as the president, and I hope I can help our organization work together through collaboration. This means taking a strong, hard look at ourselves and engaging our own members. It also means engaging with other osteopathic and allopathic programs to help develop the relationships needed to create a strong foundation for growth. The osteopathic profession is one large system. If there is one organization, medical school or state association that is dysfunctional, it can cause the entire system to not perform at its very best. My hope is to help ACOS be a strong part of the osteopathic profession and to help strengthen the only organization that represents osteopathic surgeons.

What are some goals you hope to accomplish as president of the ACOS?

Prior to being installed, my observation was that the ACOS has not engaged and collaborated with other surgical organizations as much as we can and should. There is immense opportunity in being more present within the osteopathic and surgical community. My goal is to drive the culture of the ACOS in a direction of presence and relationship-building so that we can be successful in growth within our profession.

We recently installed a new CEO as well, Valerie Sheridan, DO, FACOS, DFACOS, FACS, who I collaborate with closely to establish strategic relationships. We have already met with the AOA, AACOM and other organizations to bring specialty medicine back to the table in the osteopathic profession. This is important for the future of osteopathic surgery and the growth of our college moving forward.

You also established a residency program and serve as the program director at a branch of the Cleveland Clinic. What is your leadership philosophy?

I consider myself a servant leader and a proponent of a team dynamic. Any decision that is made within our program is made for the residents’ benefit, and they have a huge say in any changes we make. I strive to make sure those I lead feel heard and cared for, and that my day-to-day interactions with my teams are built upon integrity and building deep connections that allow for personal growth.

You’re married and have two children. How do you balance your many professional responsibilities and family life?

I live in a dual-physician household. My husband is an anesthesiologist. We have to work closely and intentionally to be successful at home and at work. We believe in assuming positive intent from one another and from our children. This keeps us centered and positive when life becomes hectic or things are not going as planned.

Early on in my career, I did a lot of introspection about my values and what is most important to me. A year or two into my surgical career following training, I thought long and hard about what I enjoyed, what I wanted more of and what I wanted less of. I sought a work situation that allowed me to prioritize what is most important to me and offered flexibility. I highly encourage others to do this early in their careers as well. Having a clear understanding of what you need to be happy will make asking for it much easier. 

What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to follow in your footsteps?

There will always be people along your path who suggest that you cannot do something. Take feedback and guidance from those you trust, but if something is important to you, find a way and do not give up.

Recognize that people are watching you and observing how you work and handle situations. Show up, do your best, be professional, be prepared and give it your all, no matter what space or role you are in. Keep your cool, be kind to everyone you meet and always do the right thing. You never know who might speak up for you, defend you or even nominate you for important positions. Implementing these principles is ultimately what has made me successful.

Lastly, own who you are and own your osteopathic distinction. Get involved with your osteopathic specialty colleges and your osteopathic state associations. It’s also great to be involved in non-osteopathic organizations and educate those around you. As osteopathic surgery moves forward and continues to grow, we will be stronger and more successful working together than we would be working individually.

Related reading:

How this DO matched into an academic research-integrated general surgery residency program

A guide to medical terminology

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