Leadership and PM&R

Florida DO leads with physical medicine and rehabilitation and more

FOMA President Lee Ann Brown, DO shares her journey into osteopathic medicine with PM&R and her leadership experience.


This month, the “DOs to Know” column will focus on an extraordinary DO, who is leading the charge for the osteopathic community in Florida. We had the pleasure to speak with the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association (FOMA) President, Lee Ann Brown, DO. Dr. Brown is a West Virginia College of Osteopathic Medical School graduate who completed her physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) residency at Northwestern University.

Her father was a minister, which led her to experience different parts of America. She was born in Arlington, Virginia, grew up in Clearwater, Florida and then went off to college at a religiously affiliated school in Nashville, Tennessee. Her undergraduate passion was physical therapy, which ultimately led her to osteopathic medicine. As they say, the rest is history.

Fast-forward to the present and she now practices where she grew up, in Clearwater. In addition to leading a large state osteopathic medical association, she is also the vice president of the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (EFORCSE). Similar to her own journey from the beaches of Florida to the mountains of West Virginia, Dr. Brown has had a wide breadth of roles in various osteopathic organizations. In this edited Q&A, we will discuss her journey into osteopathic medicine, sticking to your morals and being the leader you were destined to be.

How did you choose osteopathic medicine and PM&R?

In undergrad, I was focused on becoming a physical therapist. I would spend many weekends shadowing and working at various hospitals in the Nashville area, such as Vanderbilt. From there, I learned what a physiatrist was and instantly fell in love with the field.

Lee Ann Brown, DO

At the time, my parents were living in West Virginia, where my father was the pastor of a church. My father mentioned this osteopathic school not far from them and he said, “Hey, there’s this field called osteopathic medicine. It sounds like something you would like.” He knew I was very much into healing people, biology, health and physical fitness. I applied and was given an interview at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. During the interview, the school really resonated with me, and I was ultimately accepted.

I ended up following my passion and was accepted to an MD PM&R residency at Northwestern. Being a DO certainly helped me in my physical medicine training. In fact, my fellow MD residents would ask us how to do manipulation. Several of my peers were MDs from Yale and other Ivy League schools. Many of them would say, “I wish I was a DO.”

As a physiatrist, we look at not just the physical, but the psychosocial as well. We have a team approach and work well with others. Our goal is to try everything we can non-surgically, allowing the body to heal itself as much as it can. The tenets of osteopathic medicine are certainly aligned with PM&R.

Can you share a story that helped shape your medical career?

The foundations of your principles are laid by the choices you make, which in turn directs your path and who you become. In medicine, it is important to always maintain what is best for the patient, but do not forget your integrity. Remember to do the right thing.

About two years out of residency, I had my first real test of my principles. It was during the middle of the opioid epidemic and I had been treating this wonderful mom, who was an RN, for back pain. She had been under my care for eight months or so and had received epidurals and some rehab. She was a very nice lady.

One day, I got a call from the pharmacist saying that the patient had been using my DEA number to call in opioids for herself. As a young physician, I was completely shocked. I had to make a choice; do I call the authorities or do I just call her and slap her hand? I was nervous. She was older than me and a well-respected RN in the hospital.

I followed my gut and told my staff that we have to alert the proper authorities. It was the right thing to do. We called the authorities and fast-forward eight years, I got a consult at the hospital to do a procedure on the patient in the hospital.

I go to the bedside and she said, “Dr. Brown, do you remember me?” My heart sunk and I said, “Yes, I do, how are you?” She said, “Thank you so much for what you did to me. My life had been falling apart. My husband found out I was taking medication and because of this, I got help. I went to Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and my husband supported me. I got my family back and I have always wanted to call you and thank you, but I never did. God gave me the opportunity now.” 

You know the bottom line is even when you are uncertain, always do the right thing. In my early years, that test kind of set the trajectory of how I practice my physiatry pain practice. I always chose to follow not only the rules, but my conscience on what choices to make with my patients.

How did you become president at the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association?

Two words, “showing up.” I started being involved in osteopathic leadership as a medical student. My first year in medical school I joined the Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA). I worked my way up to leadership and eventually became the foundation chairperson at SOMA.

My first year as a practicing physician I heard about a FOMA district society meeting and I showed up. At the district meeting, I sat in the back of the room and before I knew it, I was the secretary. After this, I became the treasurer; thereafter I became the vice president, and then I became president. During my presidency, they decided to make it into a two-year commitment.

I just kept showing up. Through these interactions with my peers, I noticed I really enjoyed other fellow osteopathic leaders. During these socializations, you really align with other osteopathic physicians, and you enjoy the comradery.

From the infancy of my medical journey, I was active in leadership and a major driver of this was my love of the profession and wanting to give back to it. The reason I keep doing it is because I am learning from my colleagues and my predecessors. There are so many wonderful leaders in osteopathic medicine. Just by being around them, I have become a better physician, mother, wife and leader.

What advice would you give the next generation of female DOs who are interested in leadership?

As physicians, we are leaders; leaders in our clinics, hospitals and our team of other health care practitioners. So, by the essence of a physician, you’re really a natural leader.

Now, being a female, a lot of times you are the leader of the home as well and find yourself juggling many different things. It’s not uncommon for female physicians to have more responsibilities at home than their male colleagues. Sometimes it is harder for females to be leaders in organizations because of this time commitment.

My advice for future female DO leaders would be to follow your passion. If you are a female leader and you have a passion for, let’s say, mental illness in adolescents or maybe it’s something else in your profession, then you have to follow it and try to make it work.  

If you decide to have a family, you certainly need to put yourself and family first. Make sure you are staying healthy and not over-committing yourself. My generation was always thinking that the hardest-working one is the most successful. We realized, over time, that this is not always true.

What’s the importance for DOs to be engaged with their state and national osteopathic association?

We need to be connected with each other and continue learning the tenets of our profession, in order to become better osteopathic physicians. We do this through our state and national organizations. Through this sense of strong DO community, we help maintain our distinct characteristics as osteopathic physicians. We learn from one another and we connect with one another.

What are some pressing issues you are working on at FOMA?

There are three top issues we are addressing at FOMA in the State of Florida. One is trying to maintain funding for our GME residency programs. Two, we are pressing for COVID-19 liability protection for our health care workers, who have been working on the front lines of combating the global health pandemic. We should be afforded protection against the liability lawsuits, as they relate to COVID-19.

Third, of course, is scope expansion of non-physicians, through the legislative and administrative action. For example, in Florida, physician assistants are pushing to have their own board with no MD or DO oversight. Physician assistants used to align more with us physicians, in Tallahassee, but now they are more aligned with nurse practitioners.

This is because they do not feel it is fair for nurse practitioners to have independence if they do not.

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.

Related reading:

What I wish other doctors knew about PM&R

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