Presidential care

Get to know President Joe Biden’s personal physician, Kevin O’Connor, DO

Physician to the President Kevin O’Connor, DO, shares insights on his work and journey, including the two key factors that helped him land this role.

Since roughly 1900, the President of the United States has chosen a physician to be his personal doctor while he is in office. This physician is responsible for caring for and managing comprehensive medical care plans for the POTUS. The current Physician to the President is no exception; Kevin O’Connor, DO, has served President Joe Biden in this capacity since President Biden’s inauguration in 2021.

Osteopathic medicine in The White House

President Biden isn’t the first POTUS that Dr. O’Connor has treated. In 2006, Dr. O’Connor was appointed to the White House Medical Unit full time, where he treated President George W. Bush. In 2009, he was named Physician to the Vice President for then-Vice President Biden.

In addition to Dr. O’Connor, another DO, Sean Conley, DO, recently served as Physician to the President for President Donald Trump for three years.

Dr. O’Connor is an alumnus of New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) and a retired United States Army colonel with 22 years of military experience. He recently sat down with 2nd Lt. Leilani Lopes Haslam, OMS III, for an interview that was featured on the SAMOPS Specialty Spotlights podcast. Following are some highlights from the interview.

Kevin O’Connor, DO

Dr. O’Connor credits his military experience and his usage of osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) as being key factors that helped him eventually become Physician to the President. After a friend and fellow physician asked Dr. O’Connor to treat a prospective patient with OMT, he agreed.

“I assumed he wanted me to see a Secret Service agent or something like that. Mostly, I just wanted to see my friend Dan and catch up,” Dr. O’Connor recalls. “[But] the patient [Dan] had in mind was President Bush.”

After meeting President Bush and successfully treating him with OMT, Dr. O’Connor was specifically requested for additional treatment by the POTUS himself the next time President Bush was in town (and then again for a third time). He was then invited to officially interview for a role on the White House Medical Unit, which he ultimately accepted.

New beginnings

Following President Bush’s term, Dr. O’Connor stayed on at the White House to care for then-Vice President Biden during President Barack Obama’s term: “We became close over the years, and I ended up being involved in a lot of important family things,” Dr. O’Connor says, referring to his treatment of both President Biden’s mother and his son Beau.

Although Dr. O’Connor initially planned on retiring after his time serving the then-Vice President, he was asked to accept his presidential commission as Physician to the President after Biden was elected President. As for service at the White House, Dr. O’Connor is now approaching the 15th year of his original three-year tour.

As Physician to the President, Dr. O’Connor’s role has changed significantly. As expected, the responsibility of caring for the POTUS is much more significant. Dr. O’Connor says that the assets given to the President are “logarithmically increased,” and he calls it a “much bigger operation with a lot more moving parts.” There is much more media attention on the President’s health as well, along with the global consequences associated with treating a world leader.

A dedicated team

In addition to his increased responsibilities, Dr. O’Connor is part of a much larger medical unit. The team consists of about nine doctors, 15 nurses, 15 physician assistants and many administrators. While this team sounds large, this group is tasked with caring for the POTUS, the First Lady and the Vice President 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, anywhere in the world.

Indeed, that 24/7/365 responsibility applies to global travel as well. When international trips are planned, Dr. O’Connor says that a team will be sent in advance to map out every step that POTUS will take. That way, the team can be prepared with a primary contingency plan for any accidents or illnesses that may occur.

“What if we’re in Europe, and they have different hospitals designated for trauma, cardiac, neuro? How do you decide which one, and how are you going to get there? […] Are we going to drive? Are we going to fly? What if that’s part of the problem? Basically—how do we mitigate the risk [to the President]?” Dr. O’Connor explains.

From left to right: Gen. Douglas Robb, DO; 2nd Lt. Leilani Lopes Haslam, OMS III; Kevin O’Connor, DO; Capt. Morgan Reynolds, DO; Association of Military Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons Executive Director Suzanne Frederick, MSN; and AOA CEO Kathleen Creason, MBA, are photographed at the White House.

Job satisfaction

Despite the demanding schedule, Dr. O’Connor says that his job is very fulfilling—in fact, he says his work is his hobby. His responsibilities have evolved over the years, but Dr. O’Connor says the most important part of each day is saying, “Good morning, Mr. President.”

Because Dr. O’Connor and his team are some of the first people President Biden will see each day, Dr. O’Connor stresses the importance of greeting the President affirmatively and making themselves available. This simple engagement can help to set the mood for the rest of the day.

Dr. O’Connor also cites his wife of 28 years as an integral part of his success: “I could not have done any of the things that I did if she wasn’t pulling her weight and half of my weight at home,” he says.

Words of wisdom

While his journey is certainly a unique one, Dr. O’Connor has gained years of valuable experience that current osteopathic medical students and residents can learn from. Jokingly, Dr. O’Connor advised following the Dory principle: “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming!”

“There’s going to be a point that you [have to] just keep going. You don’t quit,” Dr. O’Connor says.

Dr. O’Connor’s remarkable career path is one that is defined by not only his adaptability and willingness to seize unexpected opportunities, but also his professional commitment to his patients, including the POTUS. His unique story is a testament to osteopathic medicine and the pursuit of excellence throughout the DO profession.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

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