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Osteopathic Medicine

The Growing Influence of Osteopathic Medicine

Ashley R. Peterson, Photos: Courtesy of Ashley R. Peterson

From the beginning, A.T. Still, the founder of osteopathic medicine, believed in not only seeing patients in a “whole person” manner, but also seeing his trainees in the same way as he had several women in his first class of 21 medical students — four, to be exact. Women, and eventually Black students, have always been valued as osteopathic medical students. 

I believe that means Dr. Still saw beyond a person’s social status and labels, and instead treated them as we all hope to be treated: as a whole person in society. 

Breaking down barriers

D.O.s continue to shape medical education. Just look at Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, who became the first African American woman to be appointed dean of a U.S. medical school.

I am also considered a “first,” but for a smaller group of people: my family. I am the first physician in my family, D.O. or otherwise. Seeing my grandmother, who tirelessly picked cotton in Alabama to make a living, and who was brave enough to walk in Montgomery with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., smile at my medical school graduation was priceless. 

I am a representation of her wildest dreams and a product of her sacrifices. Nevertheless, it has been a journey to get to this point, as my education has been filled with ups and downs, failures and triumphs, but overall, there has been continued growth as I became the resident physician I am today. 

After graduating from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, I began my residency at the Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) and became the youngest Black osteopathic resident physician in history. I chose to attend a D.O. school because I have been committed to primary care since college, and reports show D.O.s are more likely to pursue residencies in primary care and preventative medicine.

Expanding field

Studies suggest 1 in 4 current U.S. medical students attends an osteopathic medical school. Five years ago, there were two residency matches — one for D.O.s and one for M.D.s. Since 2020, there is only one: combined residency match. We have also witnessed two D.O.s be appointed as the physicians for both current President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

My passion for increasing awareness for osteopathic physicians will only continue. Even at my own residency, I have made efforts to recruit more osteopathic medical students, and MSM has made this a priority as well, with the number of D.O.s training at MSM doubling over the past 5 years. 

That means there are more D.O.s who are committed to serving underserved and diverse populations. With the “face of medicine” becoming more diverse to include record numbers of women in medical schools, and efforts being made to educate more minority physicians, it should not be forgotten how many of the white coats we see in hospitals today have the D.O. distinction stitched into them. I truly believe the increasing recognition of osteopathic medicine is beyond what A.T. Still could have imagined — and the influences of D.O.’s in the United States seems to only be increasing. Osteopathic medicine will continue to be a leader in the future of healthcare.

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