Just what the doctor ordered

Where nutrition meets osteopathic medicine: New York DO/RD supports area youth and patients

Family physician and registered dietician Alexander Ford, DO, RD, discusses his passionate work with 4th Family, a local nonprofit, and the ways he advises patients on nutrition and food.


This Q&A will be extra “nutritious” for our readers! Meet Alexander Ford, DO, RD, a family physician and registered dietician (more on that to come!) from New York.

Dr. Ford is a graduate of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) and is board certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians and the American Board of Family Medicine. He completed his family medicine residency at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Lakewood, Ohio, and served as chief resident.

Dr. Ford is currently based out of his hometown of Albany, New York, working for 4th Family, a nonprofit organization that provides programming to support youth in urban settings. You may also know Dr. Ford through his work for The DO, in which he previously served as a regular contributor to our Diversity in Medicine column.

Please give Dr. Ford a warm welcome as we learn more about why he is a DO to Know!

Following is an edited Q&A.

Alexander Ford, DO, RD

Tell us a little about yourself and your nontraditional pathway to becoming an osteopathic physician.

My journey to medicine began as a dietetics student. I majored in dietetics as an undergraduate because of my interest in wellness and disease prevention. I struggled with my weight throughout high school and witnessed nutrition and exercise’s role in health maintenance. During my dietetics rotations, I encountered several patients with medical conditions that could have been prevented or improved through lifestyle modifications. I also realized, at that time, how little physicians learned about the nutritional sciences in medical school.

As a dietetics student, I had the opportunity to work with various physicians. This taught me about countless medical conditions, associated pathophysiology and management. I soon realized that my passion for dietetics had evolved to include medicine. My need to better serve patients and recognize the limitations surrounding my scope of practice as a dietitian inspired me to further my education.

To that point, I was only aware of allopathic physicians. My best friend had begun pharmacy school at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM), and this was my first exposure to osteopathic medicine. The osteopathic philosophy and principles intrigued me, and the pillars aligned with my opinions on health and my reasons for becoming a dietitian.

As a dietician, Dr. Ford is uniquely positioned to advise his patients on nutrition. He talks more about how he works with patients in this video.

You have been an important part of 4th Family, which is an organization based in your hometown. How has this opportunity allowed you to give back to the community?

4th Family is a nonprofit in Albany that is committed to empowering communities. 4th Family provides a wide range of programs that aim to uplift and inspire individuals through mentorship, personal development, health and wellness initiatives, educational programming, annual sports leagues, tournaments and educational trips.

My best friend, John Scott, co-founded 4th Family in 2011. The name “4th Family” is based on an African proverb about community interconnection. The first family is the nuclear family, the second family is the immediate extended family, and the third family is the extended family. This organization serves as a fourth family for the community’s youth.

Dr. Ford speaks to young participants at the NBA Summer League’s WNBA All-Star STEM Clinic. (Photo provided courtesy of the Jr. NBA.)

4th Family exposes underrepresented youth to areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). We have partnerships with S.C. Johnson and Microsoft as well as with the NBA, WNBA and NFL to showcase the role of STEM in athletics. I have been involved with this organization for roughly 10 years now. I initially volunteered as a dietitian and would hold interactive nutrition lectures for kids and their families.

Since starting my medical journey, John and I discussed expanding the organization to include osteopathic medicine in 4th Family and designing a STEM+M (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) program for kids. Osteopathic medicine is the focal point for the medical component of the STEM+M program. I was appointed director of medical education for 4th Family in July and am leading the expansion of their STEM program to a STEM+M program.

In July, I attended the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, where 4th Family was invited to hold two STEM+M workshops in collaboration with the NBA, Jr. NBA, WNBA and Microsoft for youth in the Las Vegas community. I presented on sports nutrition and wellness and answered questions about the osteopathic profession for NBA staff and youth members. My vision as 4th Family’s director of medical education is to create a pipeline for underrepresented youth to be exposed to careers in health care and to work with an osteopathic physician who also provides osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT).

4th Family also works with several inner-city public schools to offer the AIM program to area youth. The AIM program is a comprehensive wellness curriculum I developed as a medical student to attenuate mental health stigma among African American children and adolescents. After several revisions, the AIM program is now a 10-lesson curriculum that equips children, adolescents and young adults with the foundational skills necessary to “aim” for their goals both in and out of the classroom. Lesson topics include health literacy, nutritional literacy, visual imagery and positive self-talk.

You completed residency this year. How did you know family medicine was your calling, and what are your career plans post-residency?

Before my matriculation into medical school, I read literature about various medical specialties. I was instantly drawn to primary care. The emphasis on health promotion, disease prevention and health maintenance complemented my ideals. As a dietitian, I’ve learned that exercise and nutrition are integral to healthfulness.

My interest in numerous areas of medicine molded my attitude to focus more on general practice when I entered medical school. As I continued to explore primary care, family medicine resonated with me the most. I entered medical school to gain more knowledge about the patients I encountered as a dietitian and to maximize my potential as a future practitioner. Family medicine aligned with these wishes by allowing me to treat the entire patient and integrate patient care instead of focusing on a particular organ system. I found family medicine exciting because it provided the opportunity to receive extensive training, qualifying the physician to provide health care to people of all ages and genders.

As you were a previous osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) scholar, how do you incorporate osteopathic manipulative medicine in your clinics? Do you use any preferred techniques in clinic that improve your patients’ musculoskeletal complaints?

I incorporate OMT within my practice regularly and am fortunate enough to have an employer supporting me in performing these procedures and recognizing the health benefits. I commonly see patients for upper and lower back pain and use soft tissue and myofascial release (MFR) for these visits. During this season, the office is busy with acute sick visits to manage respiratory infections. I enjoy performing lymphatic techniques in these situations to support the patient’s immune system and enhance the capabilities of their lymphatics.

I became passionate about OMT during the summer between my first and second year of medical school. 4th Family hosted its first STEM-based basketball camp in upstate New York.

During the camp, one of the children sprained their ankle while attempting a lay-up. I assessed his injury and, with his parents’ permission, performed counterstain to expedite his recovery and pain relief. The technique brought him prompt improvement in his range of motion and pain level. That experience made me appreciate the art and benefit of OMT even more and desire to hone my skillset and ultimately become an OMM scholar.

How do you use your dietician knowledge as a physician to help your patients?

I use my dietetics knowledge in the clinic daily. Patients in my practice have the option to schedule with me solely for nutritional counseling and address their specific concerns and dietary interests. I had opportunities to work with integrative medicine and functional medicine specialists during medical school and residency and incorporate this knowledge into patient encounters.

For example, before prescribing an antibiotic, I will discuss the impact of antibiotics on the gut biome, define pre- and probiotics and then discuss ways the patient can increase their consumption through diet changes. 

What advice would you give to physicians who would like to advise patients on nutrition?

Establishing goals with your patients at the initial encounter is often helpful in creating clear expectations and helping motivate each other. Starting with the nutrition basics can be very impactful to the patient. With so many diets on the market, it is easy for the clinician and patient to become overwhelmed with which is the best.

Beginning with an introductory discussion on reading a food label and the general criteria for “good” fats, carbs and proteins is an excellent foundation for most people. It can be integrated into the standard medical appointment when discussing social history or establishing patient-centered goals. A good reference website is Eat Right, the official website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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’s cooking? ‘TheChefDoc’ Colin Zhu, DO, serves up lifestyle and culinary medicine

Food from the soul: A history of African American culture and nutrition

One comment

  1. J. Gregory Feczko, D.O.

    Just a clarification question…when someone has earned multiple degrees, isn’t the “proper” way to list them after one’s name, to list the “highest” degree last? Is an RD
    degree considered higher than a D.O. degree? Or has that convention changed?

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