In the last year of medical school, all medical students are faced with important decisions about where they would like to complete their residency. For osteopathic students, one key element of this decision is to what extent do they want to be a minority within their program. I am an osteopathic physician. Osteopathy is core to my identity and pride as a physician. I am one of two osteopathic physicians within my residency program, and we comprise only 7 percent of the group. Today I am very satisfied with the decision that I made to be in the minority, however, through the application process, I was discouraged from being in this position. These are some of the things I was told and the reality that followed:
You will be treated differently by your attendings and will need to prove yourself.
No one notices that I am a DO. Being an intern is all it takes for attendings to see you as a deer in the headlights in need of help. I have to prove myself in the same way anyone embarking on a new career does, but this is no different than my MD peers. People only notice I am a DO when I proudly point it out as the reason I know that T3 is at the level of the superior angle of the scapula, otherwise, I’m just an intern.
There will be no support of doing osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), you will lose your skill set.
Being one of the only DO’s in an opiate avoiding chronic pain world has given me the opportunity to provide a much-needed skill set to a group of needing patients. My ability to see an OMT patient and feel confident that I am providing a service that may otherwise be unmet is very rewarding.
You will lose your identity and be forced to conform.
Absolutely not. In fact, being one of the only DO’s in my program has given me the opportunity to hold even stronger to my identity as an osteopathic physician. I feel it is my duty to represent my profession and the skills and beliefs that come with it. I can see this being a problem if I had been on the fence about my attachment to the osteopathic philosophy and practice, but as someone who holds it in such a high regard, I love the opportunity to teach others about my training.
When applying to an MD dominant program you should downplay your osteopathic origins.
I do not know the inner-workings of the application process at each program, but this just felt wrong to me so I did the opposite. This may be true for some programs, but if that was the case my thought was that I didn’t want to end up there. Hold strong to your passions and emphasize what makes you unique and different and programs will see that as a strength. I feel this was my experience through the application process.
So, if I were to do again, I would. In fact, I feel that more osteopathic medical students should consider doing the same. The future of osteopathic medicine is reliant on people branching out and going where they will be the voice of osteopathy.
Catherine Vanier is a family medicine resident. This article originally appeared in Family Medicine Vital Signs.
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