By Nicole Heath Bixler, DO, MBA, FACOFP
ACOFP President-Elect

It seems that in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic and a tenuous political landscape, the credentials of President Trump’s personal physician, and the validity of the osteopathic profession, is the next issue to cause a divide in the media world. For those not aware of what has occurred in the past week, POTUS was diagnosed with COVID-19; his personal physician Sean Conley, DO, had to speak at some press conferences; and non-medical people are critiquing the content, details and delivery of that protected health information by airing false information about his credentials and the osteopathic profession on television and social media outlets.

I have been a practicing DO family physician for 15 years, which means I have only heard about the history of DOs fighting to maintain independent licensing in the state of California or being able to gain rounding privileges at traditional allopathic hospitals. I have never been subjected to being called a “quack” or not a “real doctor.” My credentials have never been challenged by a colleague or a patient as not being good enough. I have never been denied the ability to provide holistic care to a patient because I have DO after my name instead of MD.

That is why seeing such misinformation about our profession being spread through Twitter, Facebook and mainstream media seems both surreal and archaic at the same time. In 2020, it is hard for me to comprehend that there could be people utilizing the health care system in America that do not have the slightest clue that a DO is a full-fledged licensed doctor.

There have always been questions about our differences in philosophy, approach to patient care and what we do with manipulative treatment—just as there has often been the assumption that DOs only practice in primary care. I think most osteopathic physicians are prepared to answer those questions but having to go back to defending our years of medical school, residency training, certification and licensure just seems unfortunate in a time when there is already enough uncertainty.

No matter your political preference, I would think that it would be obviously clear that the personal physician of the president of the United States would be a position vetted with the utmost scrutiny, considering the delicate nature of a physician-patient relationship. It is mind-boggling to think that anyone could believe that Dr. Conley could be placed in that role without being a “real doctor” with the proper training and credentials.

“To my fellow DOs, thank you for all that you DO—for every day that you don your PPE to take care of a COVID patient, for every baby that you have delivered, for every family that you have comforted as their loved one has been removed from life support… For all these reasons and many more, you are a respected physician to these patients, and that is ultimately what matters.”

In the words of notable novelist and activist James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Therefore, as a #ProudDO, an osteopathic board-certified family physician and the incoming president of ACOFP, it is my responsibility:

To lead by facing the misinformed and changing the dialogue about our profession through accurate and positive affirmation.

To challenge those who choose to be reactive instead of proactive.

To enlighten those that are not aware that there are 150,000+ osteopathic physicians and students practicing and learning in the United States.

To engage our collective osteopathic organizations to promote the diversity and breadth of our physicians that treat patients in all fields of medicine.

To share the knowledge and passion that we have in promoting health and wellness in our communities.

To truly educate those who do not know, “What is a DO?”

A DO in the United States is:

  • A physician who chose a path in medical training that focuses on the holistic approach to a patient that includes mind, body and spirit
  • A physician who has spent four years learning at one of 37 accredited colleges of osteopathic medicine at 58 teaching locations in 33 U.S. states
  • A physician who learned osteopathic manipulative treatment in addition to the standard medical school curriculum
  • A physician who has passed three certification exams during medical school and residency training
  • A physician who has completed an average of 3–5 years of residency training under the same standards as MDs after the completion of medical school
  • A physician who may have spent additional years in fellowship training upon completion of their residency
  • A physician who can practice in any specialty
  • A physician who has completed initial and ongoing certification through their respective specialty board
  • A physician who can be licensed in any one of the 50 states
  • A physician who can be contracted with Medicare and all commercial insurance providers based on the physician’s preference—not their degree
  • A physician who can treat patients of all ages and medical conditions
  • A physician who has dedicated a significant amount of time, effort and personal sacrifice to provide care to our communities
  • A physician who is absolutely qualified to take care of the president of the United States

To my fellow DOs, thank you for all that you DO—for every day that you don your PPE to take care of a COVID patient, for every baby that you have delivered, for every family that you have comforted as their loved one has been removed from life support, for every trauma victim that has presented to your emergency room, for every patient you have treated for diabetes, for every cardiac catheterization that has saved someone from a heart attack, for every woman you have cured of breast cancer.

For all these reasons and many more, you are a respected physician to these patients, and that is ultimately what matters.

For more information on osteopathic medicine, I encourage you to access these resources:

What is a DO?

Osteopathic Medical Profession 2019 Report

American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine

3 Comments »

  1. Thank you, Nicole Bixler. Next time consider the ration of DO’s in school to that of the MD’s and the number of hospitals with DO’s on staff. Too bad we cannot communicate the number of patients that we care for that the MD training has not trained to care for because of the focus on symptoms–disease labeling–and failure to see the whole patient. If DO’s were not there, all of those patients would be slowing down an already challenged MD system.

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  2. As A PA Student in Cleveland Oh, I knew nothing of DOs coming from N.C. other than hearing the letters. We studied at the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western School of Medicine, Cuyagoga College and heard of DOs. Not until my roommate and I went to a DO Hospital for Cardiology Rotations did we have the slightest…..after that, my room mate went to DO School IN Ohio, married a PA whose dad was a DO Professor and I went back down South and earned a PhD and MD(AM) and practiced alternative and Holistic Health and Medicine….I quit writing Rxs because I saw the false cures and associated side effects with the only way off being DEATH ONCE YOU ARE ON THEM. I now have female DO as my personal Dr and we have several in the NC cities and rural areas….so thankful!!

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