AOA leadership

New Jersey family physician Ira P. Monka, DO, MHA, FACOFP, is the AOA’s 2023-24 president

Dr. Monka shares his thoughts on the osteopathic medical profession and how he plans to work with the AOA this year to advance DOs in the workplace.


I had the pleasure of meeting Ira P. Monka, DO, MHA, FACOFP, the 2023-24 president of the AOA. He is a genuine person who is deeply committed to bringing unity and recognition to the osteopathic community. He is someone who inspires his community to lead with integrity and kindness, and his sense of humor and joy for life are contagious. Please welcome Dr. Monka to his new role as the AOA’s 127th president.

Dr. Monka is an AOA board-certified family medicine physician. He graduated in 1984 from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, now the Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey (Rowan-VirtuaSOM). He completed a family medicine residency at Union Hospital, which is part of the Atlantic Health System through Overlook Medical Center in Summit, New Jersey.

Dr. Monka pursued additional health policy training and earned a master’s in health administration (MHA) from A.T. Still University Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine while running a multispecialty group to gain more insight into the administrative aspect of medicine.

During our interview, Dr. Monka shared that his and his wife’s families were survivors of the Holocaust. Their experiences left Dr. Monka determined to treat and respect everyone equally. “We are all a family together,” he says of his relationship with his patients.

AOA President Ira P. Monka, DO, MHA, FACOFP

In this interview, Dr. Monka shares his thoughts on the osteopathic medical profession and how he plans to work with the AOA this year to advance DOs in the workplace.

What do you think are the strongest and weakest aspects of the osteopathic profession?

Our strongest asset is our training to care for the whole patient—body, mind and spirit. If we apply the knowledge and tools we learned in medical school, we can differentiate ourselves from other physicians. We learn everything allopathic students learn, but we also learn about the mind-body connection. If our patients understand what we do, they may come back to us for back pain instead of just their sore throat.

Looking at the history of the profession, one of the biggest drawbacks, at least for my generation, was the lack of understanding and respect for DOs compared to MDs. When I was a young physician, the ‘famous’ quote back then was, “What’s a DO?”

Things are very different for the generation of DOs entering medicine today. There’s much more awareness and understanding of the osteopathic profession now. A huge step forward came when insurance companies began listing MDs and DOs together. The number of DOs graduating from medical school has increased, and we are getting more students into residency programs than ever before. We will continue fighting for increased parity to open up even more doors, and we will shine even brighter in the coming years.

What do you hope to accomplish in your time as AOA president?

I have already established a membership workgroup and board certification workgroup to help address the disconnect we’re seeing between the number of osteopathic medical students and the number of DOs who are osteopathically board-certified members of the AOA. It could be a generational issue, as we’ve seen across the board that younger professionals are not joining their organizations as much as they used to.

AOA President Ira P. Monka, DO, MHA, FACOFP (left), at the AOA's 2022 House of Delegates meeting.

We continue to advocate for our physicians through the AOA’s Washington and Chicago offices, and we’re meeting with legislators and policymakers to ensure that osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) is better accepted by insurance companies. We also want to visit students and educate them on who we are and the benefits of being a member of the AOA.

We would also like to see all residency programs adopt Osteopathic Recognition. The American Medical Association recently passed resolutions stating that training for osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) should be a part of the curriculum of all medical students. This is a positive step toward increasing acceptance of OMM in the medical community.

What do you believe makes you a good fit for this role?

Back in 1988, a doctor friend of mine asked me to start a county osteopathic association. I was elevated to president. Then, Martin Levine, DO, past president of the New Jersey Association of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons (NJAOPS), put me on the state board. I said the same thing: “Me? You want me?” Then, I was elevated to president of the NJAOPS.

I also work hard for the Osteopathic Political Action Committee (OPAC). I started a foundation at Rowan-VirtuaSOM to help students financially. The profession has gotten me to where I am today. Why should I not give back to the profession? By seeing where you can help and what you can do, you become a leader and people begin to depend on you.

What has been the most challenging aspect of leadership for you?

Whenever I see disparity in our profession, I stand up to it, and most people will listen. My hospital offers training programs in family medicine, pediatrics, general surgery, etc. At one point, I learned that our surgery program was not accepting DO residency candidates, so I asked the head of the department why. The following year, the program director took a DO resident. These are the challenges we face and what we fight for, and we have to do it on an individual level.

Many fourth-years may apply to residency programs that have not accepted DOs or may not take many DOs. What advice would you offer students on how to present themselves?

It is important to meet people and let them know you want to be placed in a particular residency program. With the high number of applicants, you cannot just submit an application and expect to be accepted. I watched my son go through this and it can be scary. Yet, I think people make it out to be scarier than it needs to be. The most important thing is to practice osteopathically and be the best physician you can be. Will everyone get everything they want? No, but that is true for MD students, too.

With the current and projected physician shortage, it is in the best interest of programs to be inclusive and accept DOs. When you look at what we can do, we have far more advantages than disadvantages. The most important thing is, no matter where you complete your residency, you will have the DO title behind your name. That will never change.

How do you care for your mental health?

I work hard, and I love what I do, so I don’t think I’ve experienced burnout to the extent that others have. I attended an interesting lecture on burnout while attending a Florida Osteopathic Medical Association meeting. The lecturer focused on three areas to help combat burnout: exercise, emotional support (partner, spouse, family, kids, colleagues, etc.) and spirituality. If those three haven’t helped, then seek professional help, and don’t be embarrassed.

Three and a half years ago, I wasn’t taking care of myself—my blood pressure was high, I was snoring. My wife came to me and said, “You’re snoring, you haven’t exercised, you have a bike in the basement and I’m getting rid of it.” I got on the bike. Since then, I’ve lost 60 pounds. I am in the best shape of my life physically and mentally. I continue to bike, row and lift free weights. Our physical health helps our mental health.

Our mission statement is paraphrased as: Practice and live your life as an example of what an osteopathic physician should be. This is how I live my life and how we should be for our family, patients and friends.

What is something that brings you peace?

Peace is a strong family. To me, being an osteopathic physician and doing what I do every day brings me peace.

Related reading:

Physicians in politics: Tyler King, DO, is a Laredo, Texas, city council member

Civil rights activist William G. Anderson, DO, looks back on fighting segregation with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Leave a comment Please see our comment policy