The President's Message
Inaugural Address - April 26, 2014
"I would like to thank you members of our association, the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association, for placing your trust in me and giving me the opportunity to serve as president. This is an awesome responsibility which I do not take lightly.
I would like to start out by asking a simple question. Are we who we say we are? Sure, we have the initials DO behind our names. But are we really doctors of osteopathic medicine? We have graduated from osteopathic medical schools. But does that make us osteopathic physicians? Osteopathic medicine was started out of the need to provide better care for patients. Osteopathic physicians understand that holding the hand of a frightened patient is just as important as performing her potentially life-saving procedure. The osteopathic physician is trained to be a complete physician—taking care of a patient's body, mind and spirit. Sure, osteopathic medicine includes manual therapy also known as OMT, a skill which every osteopathic physician in every specialty should be doing in accordance with their specialty. OMT is not the only skill which we should master. But, it is a skill unique to those trained in osteopathic medicine. A skill that can treat the patient's body, mind and spirit. It helps to foster the patient's healing and his sense of wellbeing. As Dr. Still reminded us, anyone can find disease, but an osteopathic physician must find health. As osteopathic physicians, we understand that treating the spirit of a patient is just as important as treating the mind and body.
The patients of osteopathic physicians may not understand this. But they know that we make differences for them. That is why many of our patients will bypass multiple medical facilities to reach our offices. They know that they can get treatment for their physical needs in many places. Their osteopathic physician will address not only their physical needs, but also their mental and spiritual needs as well. Despite the less than stellar reputation that doctors have received as a whole, every osteopathic physician has more than a handful of patients who think that their doctor is the best doctor in the world.
Again, I ask you—Are we who we say we are?
Osteopathic medicine has survived for over 140 years—but not without its challenges. Dr. Still’s difficulties in starting the first osteopathic medical school have been well chronicled. But evidently, he was successful.
The Flexner report of 1910 was critical of medical education. Many medical schools, both allopathic and osteopathic were closed. This left only five osteopathic medical schools. But look how many we have now.
In World War II, osteopathic physicians were not drafted as physicians. So we stayed home to build practices and reputations as quality physicians. It was not until 1962 that osteopathic physicians could enlist as physicians in the military. Many osteopathic physicians have gone on to distinguish themselves in service to their country, even rising as high as the rank of assistant surgeon general of one of several service branches.
We were once barred from practicing in hospitals. There are many physicians still around to remind us of this history. I personally know one physician in Claremore, Okla., that had to get into a fist fight for hospital privileges. So, since we could not practice in established hospitals, we built our own hospitals. Hospitals so successful that allopathic physicians soon wanted to be on staff. But now since osteopathic physicians are more widely accepted, our solely osteopathic hospitals have gone the way of the dinosaur. However, the emergence of the OPTI continues to ensure the system of osteopathic medical education. And thus, helps us to maintain osteopathic medical education integrity.
Now, we have a new situation that at first glance appears to be a threat to our profession—the combining of allopathic and osteopathic postgraduate medical education. Whether you agree or disagree with the change, changes in postgraduate education are coming in some form. We should not look at this as the beginning of the end, but rather we should look at this as an opportunity to further our profession in terms of visibility and influence. Because we have been so successful, we now have more graduates from our osteopathic medical schools than we have postgraduate training positions. It is estimated this year, 2014, we will have 5,150 osteopathic medical school graduates to fill 2,988 available osteopathic graduate medical education openings. And this gap appears to be getting larger every year. A significant number of osteopathic medical graduates have been trained in allopathic residencies. This is not a bad thing. Our graduates enter residency programs to learn skills and procedures. All physicians, both DO and MD, perform the same procedures in the same manner. I'm sure that a cholecystectomy is performed the same way by both allopathic and osteopathic physicians. The difference comes in treating the whole patient, both before and after the procedure. We cannot throw our osteopathic graduates under the bus. We must ensure that they receive the best medical training possible in the specialty of their choice. They must have access to fellowships that are not available as osteopathic training programs. Our students generally do not choose a residency program based on whether it is an allopathic or osteopathic program. They choose programs that will provide the desired course of training. They choose programs which will allow their spouses to continue to work and their kids to remain in school. They choose programs where they have a social support network to help care for their families.
Medical schools graduate doctors. Residency programs train doctors. But only a physician can train a physician. The apprenticeship practices involved in medical training has never changed and it should never be changed. If a graduate from an osteopathic medical school is not well enmeshed within the fabric of the osteopathic profession by the time he/she finish their DO degree or at least a residency program, then chances are, they never will be.
I stand before you tonight as an osteopathic physician who completed an allopathic residency in family medicine. I didn't even apply to an allopathic medical school. I met my first osteopathic physician, Wendy Heller, DO, while I was in college. It was from that time that I wanted to be an osteopathic physician. After I completed my residency, I took both allopathic and osteopathic specialty boards. But I will continue tomorrow to maintain only my osteopathic certification. Why?
Osteopathic culture. Even before medical school, I was introduced to the osteopathic culture. I have had many osteopathic mentors along the way. Even as an allopathic family medicine resident in Enid, Okla., the osteopathic physicians of the Northwest District treated me and my wife like family. To this day I still look up to these physicians who taught me about osteopathic culture. It has been my osteopathic mentors during my education that taught me not only about medicine, but also about how to live each day as an example of what an osteopathic physician should be.
I am not the first allopathically trained physician to become president of the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association. And I hope I'm not the last. Because if I am, we will have failed in attempts to expand our osteopathic culture. The allopathically trained osteopathic physicians serving on this board are not merely products just of our training, a strategy or formula; but rather a product of osteopathic culture.
This goes to prove what management consultant and educator Peter Drucker meant when he said 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day.' Culture is an outgrowth of leadership. Osteopathic physicians need to be demonstrating osteopathic ideals in order to mentor new osteopathic physicians. It doesn't matter how much we plan or strategize, culture will trump any plan or strategy. No matter how brilliant the strategy, it will not survive and be realized if it is not supported by culture. It is osteopathic culture that has allowed our profession to come through previous setback attempts—not only just surviving, but becoming stronger. It is the osteopathic culture that will see us through this new opportunity in postgraduate training.
Also, remember that graduating from an osteopathic residency does not ensure that the graduate will be an osteopathic physician unless that resident is already sewn within the fabric of osteopathic culture.
Osteopathic culture also drives the differences that we make in the lives of our patients. This difference should never be intangible or hard to describe. It should be a daily way of life for all of us. If osteopathic culture is ever forgotten, I fear that the osteopathic difference will be lost. It is osteopathic culture that makes us most adaptable to external changes within medicine. Osteopathic culture helps us to fill practices with patients. An osteopathic physician can receive no greater compliment or reward than receiving a patient's trust. This trust is magnified many times over when the patient also trusts us with the things that they hold most dear—the health of their children.
Alison Levine is not exactly a household name outside mountain climbing circles. She was one of the first women to complete the grand slam of mountain climbing by climbing the highest peak on every continent. If you know anything about mountain climbing, you know it is very dependent upon the weather conditions. It is the weather that helps to determine whether a climber will be able to reach the summit. Very little ever prevents Alison from reaching her goal because she is very adaptable. When faced with a difficult challenge, a challenge made much more complicated by external conditions, she is able to change her actions in order to meet the challenge successfully. As she says, 'you can't change your environment, but you can change the way you react to it.'
The reason osteopathic medicine has survived for 140+ years is adaptability, the ability to react positively to changes in our environment. This adaptability has been fostered by and made stronger by our osteopathic culture. We should never lose our osteopathic difference.
I would like to leave you with one last quote by Peter Drucker. 'The best way to predict the future is to create it.'
Please help maintain our osteopathic culture. Get involved with our association—participate in district meetings, volunteer to work on a committee. The more that we are involved in our association, the stronger we can become. But most important of all, mentor a student or resident to become an osteopathic physician. You just might be training your future personal physician. And remember, if we truly believe in the osteopathic culture, if we continue to live as examples of good osteopathic physicians, osteopathic medicine will not merely continue to survive, it will thrive.
I would like to introduce some of the people with us tonight that are very important to me.
1. My parents, Kent and Sherry Cooper
2. My in-laws, Tom and Juanita Spillers
3. My brother, David Cooper, a naval veteran of 20 years
4. I would also like to thank Kris Steele for being a part of this evening.
5. My medical assistants, Twilla Summers and Jennifer Cherry; and Dr. Tara Claussen, one of my partners.
6. And, the most important person in the world to me. She is the major reason I am able to stand here today. The woman who has helped me more than anyone can imagine, my wife, Diane Cooper.
Thank you and good night."
*I would like to thank AOA president Norman Vinn for the inspiration and supplying the historic details.