October 2, 2014

GUEST ROOM: “What is a D.O.?” Stories from a Cornellian

Print More


When people see the letters after my name, I often get asked, “What is a D.O.?” So, as assistant director of medicine at Gannett Health Services, I welcome opportunities to share what my life and work is like as an osteopathic physician on this campus. I chose to enter into medicine as an osteopathic physician 10 years ago, and I could not be happier with this decision: It has made me the best doctor I could be, enables me to give the very best care to my patients and allows me to be a team-player in transforming the health of communities.

First and foremost, osteopathic medicine is not an “alternative” path into medicine, but it is different. It is based on the premise that the body is a unit with an inherent capacity to heal itself; that structure and function are interrelated and that patient care should focus on the treatment of body, mind and spirit. In order to accomplish these tenets, osteopathic medical students take the same basic science classes as our allopathic colleagues. In addition, we take classes in advanced anatomy, to study the structure of the human body in depth. From the very beginning, we learn the importance of palpation, or using our hands to detect abnormalities in anatomy. We learn to feel, for example, the difference between a muscle in spasm and a muscle that is healthy. These skills are pivotal in being able to eventually diagnose and treat patients with our hands.

In my practice at Cornell, I experience the benefits of this training every day. It has given me the ability to accurately diagnose and treat patients, making them feel better quickly, and I use medications and expensive tests perhaps less often. When I am able to relieve the pain of muscle tension headache during an office visit and avoid the use of muscle relaxant medication (and the drowsiness it can cause), a busy student can get back to the library or go to an exam pain-free. This is definitely the preferred option during prelim season and finals week.

It’s not only the preferred option for Cornell students. During my international work in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, I had my hands and the few medications I could carry in my backpack to care for patients. While in Maine and Vermont, doing rural outreach work in mobile units, where the closest place to get an x-ray or blood work an hour away, I used my hands to distinguish those who needed to make the trip from those who could stay in the community. So when people ask me if I feel “less than” for being a D.O. — and I do get asked that from time to time — I respond that I am proud of my training, skills and ability to give the best care to the patient no matter the circumstances.

It should be noted that osteopathic physicians go into primary care in greater numbers than our allopathic colleagues. And for good reason: It’s what the country needs us to do. Anyone who has been attuned to the health care debate will find out quickly that there is a shortage of primary care physicians in the United States, and research continues to show that unless this is rectified, health care reform will be difficult to take hold. That being said, osteopathic physicians can specialize in residency and lead the development of new knowledge through research. Nowadays, many residency programs train D.O.s and M.D.s side by side in the hospitals they will eventually practice medicine in together.

I am a proud Cornellian, proud of being “elite, but not elitist.” I was nurtured here in a caring community that always taught me to respect the importance of diversity, acceptance and inclusion. I am now proud to practice medicine at Gannett, where I am one of three D.O.s on a very large and diverse staff comprised of M.D.s, nurses, physician assistants, counselors, physical therapists, pharmacists, lab and x-ray technicians, nurse practitioners, therapists, nutritionists, athletic trainers, information technologists, administrative staff, health educators, public health officials and communications specialists. We all have different contributions, which, when brought together, enables us to care for the very personal needs of our patients and the broader needs of our community. Nobody is better or worse — we are all different because of our background, experience, beliefs, upbringing and also our training. Team-based care is the wave of the future, and the holistic approach offered by integrating the expertise of our professionals is truly on the cutting edge of health care today.

For questions about medicine or the osteopathic profession, I encourage you to talk with your advisor, your college’s pre-med advisors, the Office of Undergraduate Biology, the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, or Cornell Career Services. I am also happy to answer students’ specific questions. You can find interesting stats, data and more stories online.

Anne Jones D.O., MPH graduated in 2004 from the College of Arts and Sciences and is the Assistant Director of Medicine at Gannett Health Services. She can be reached at [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.