Some of the 142 aspiring osteopathic physicians and surgeons entering the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine are seen taking the Student Pledge of Commitment during Saturday's 38th annual Convocation and White Coat Ceremony.

Photographer: John Sattler

brose speak-story

OU-HCOM Dean Emeritus John A. Brose, D.O., addresses the Class of 2017 at Saturday's 38th annual Convocation and White Coat Ceremony. During the ceremony, Brose was presented the Phillips Medal of Public Service, the highest honor bestowed by the college.

Photographer: John Sattler

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OU-HCOM welcomes 142 aspiring physicians at white coat ceremony

Dean Emeritus John Brose, D.O., presented with college’s highest honor

The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-HCOM) welcomed 142 aspiring osteopathic physicians and surgeons during the 38th annual Convocation and White Coat Ceremony on Saturday afternoon.

On this beautiful August day, as family and friends of the new students filled Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium to the sounds of the Jason Horne Jazz trio, so began a pomp-and-circumstance celebration of the college's newest – and largest – entering class of students.

Sharing medical school anecdotes and recounting self-deprecating moments in their early days as physicians, several speakers offered poignant reminders of the humbling reality of being a physician and caring for patients and their families.

This included John A. Brose, D.O., who described for the Class of 2017 the emotional roller coaster of patient care in his keynote address as the recipient of the Phillips Medal of Public Service, the highest honor bestowed by the college.

"Occasionally medicine can be comical," said Dr. Brose. "I remember doing vasectomy counseling with a married couple. I showed them medical diagrams outlining the procedure, and both sat there smiling and listening politely until suddenly the husband stood up and said, 'Wait just a second. Are you saying you're going to do this on me, not on my wife?' He took off down the hall, narrowly breaking Usain Bolt's record in the hundred meter sprint."

After the laughter subsided, Dr. Brose reminded students that a physician's life is also full of challenges, and that for every humorous moment, each of them in time would have to console someone on the loss of a loved one or break the news of a patient's terminal illness. Dr. Brose then offered the students some touching and poignant insight and advice.

"It is a rare privilege to be responsible for preserving someone's life," Dr. Brose said. "You will be among the select few to have that honor. No matter what specialty you choose, it is as important, and usually more important, to treat the person inside of the body as it is to treat the body itself."

Dr. Brose told the future physicians that their patients would regard a Heritage College graduate's medical skills and knowledge as top notch. "What they will judge you on is whether you exhibit genuine concern for them as people. Empathy and communication skills will be your most important medical instruments, so please speak in words your patients can understand and avoid medical jargon. Even simple medical terms can be misunderstood."

In his introduction, Executive Dean Kenneth H. Johnson, D.O., recognized Brose for his legacy of leadership and service and the pivotal role he played in the college's growth and transformation, including the historic gift of $105 million in 2011 from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations. Securing the gift was indeed a major achievement, said Johnson, and he wanted to recognize Dr. Brose's other accomplishments, as well.

"At heart Jack is a true teacher," Dr. Johnson said of Dr. Brose. "Our students' welfare and education were always his first priority. He knows that the college is only as good as its students, and it's no surprise that he has received so many outstanding instructor awards during his time here, or that even in his new position as vice provost – a challenging role by any measure – he spends a third of his time teaching."

Dr. Brose also made patient care a priority, Johnson said of his founding of the college's free clinic, and how he regularly treated patients there while dean.
Our students gain clinical experience in their first week

Medical students are required to wear the short white coat while accompanying physicians in clinical settings. Unlike other medical schools, OU-HCOM has long bestowed the coat in the early weeks of classes, since Heritage College students have patient contact and clinical experiences in their first weeks of medical school.

Austin T. Moore, a second-year OU-HCOM student and 2013 president of the college's Student Government Association, used himself as an example to illustrate the integrity and trust the white coat instantly confers on the person wearing it, whether deserved or not. He recounted his own humbling experience – in clinic, with a doctor in front of a patient – of having his stethoscope on backwards, and the terrified response of the patient who realized he was in the presence of someone "as green as green could be."

"While the white coat makes you look like a doctor, it doesn't always make you feel like one, and it definitely doesn't make you one," Mr. Moore said.

"The white coat symbolizes hope and the purity of our profession," Mr. Moore added. "You are stepping into this role today, and you will be changed after this moment. When you put on your white coat, you will be a symbol of hope, integrity and compassion."

Wayne R. Carlsen, D.O., senior associate dean, explained "the white coat has come to signify the trust people place in us and the great responsibility that being a physician entails. While learning the scientific method and applying it to medical decisions is critical preparation for all physicians, the development of a standard of professionalism, compassion and respect for the public trust is equally important."

"You are the future of osteopathic medicine," said Robert L. Hunter, D.O., president of the Ohio Osteopathic Association, which provided the white coats to the students. "We are committed to your success. And we will be here for you over the next four years and beyond, providing extracurricular education, and leadership and networking opportunities. It is through these opportunities that you will discover the national leadership role that Ohio plays in the osteopathic profession."

Gregory A. Hill, D.O., a 1986 graduate and president of the board of the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine Society of Alumni and Friends, led the students in the Student Pledge of Commitment. In addition to Dr. Hill, physicians who presented students with their white coats included:

Robert L. Hunter, D.O.
Wayne Carlsen, D.O.
William Burke, D.O. ('88)
Bruce Vanderhoff, M.D.
Kevin Lake, D.O. ('92)
Nicolas Espinoza, D.O. ('90)
Nicole Wadsworth, D.O. ('97)
Tracy Marx, D.O. ('92)
Mitchell Silver, D.O. ('89)
Rebecca Strickland, M.D.
Robert Hampton, D.O. ('84)

"I am so excited that you have chosen a career in osteopathic medicine. It's a career like no other," Dr. Johnson told the students. "Your success will come from how deeply you care for people, their problems and their health — and how well you use your talents and knowledge to help your patients and their families."

"During orientation, I asked how many of you were from Ohio, and almost everyone in the room raised their hand," Johnson said. Ninety-three percent of the entering class is from Ohio, a record for the college and possibly for any medical college in the state, he said. The class also has the highest combined MCAT [Medical College Aptitude Test] scores in the college's history. "I think that makes you pretty smart," he added.

"Regardless of who you are, where you come from, and what you hope to achieve during your studies, you were selected because you have the potential to be an outstanding osteopathic physician," Dr. Johnson said.

Roderick J. McDavis, Ph.D., Ohio University president, and Pamela J. Benoit, Ph.D., Ohio University executive vice president and provost, welcomed students to Ohio University and Athens.

A commitment to serve in our communities of greatest need

Among the Class of 2017 were eight students in the inaugural class of the Rural and Urban Scholars Pathways program, a new initiative made possible by the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations' gift. The program was developed to directly address Ohio's shortage of primary care physicians.

Kara Guisinger understands the urgent need for physicians in underserved areas, having worked in an inner-city clinic as an undergraduate nutrition student at the University of Cincinnati. The experience confirmed her decision to enter medical school and apply to be a Scholar. The Pathways program was a "perfect alignment" of her desire to be a primary care physician and eventually practice in a physician shortage area.

"I went to live in an urban environment, and I saw there was a real need for primary care physicians, which I'd always had an interest in being," Guisinger said. "This program brings all those things together."

Benjamin Oldach had a similar experience after working in an urban healthcare facility while attending graduate school at Ohio State University. "I knew that I wanted to be a primary care physician and work in an underserved area," Oldach said. He interviewed many patients in Columbus about the lack of access to continuing healthcare. "A big thing they often said is that they may find a physician, but they would leave after three years. I want to help change that," he said.

Twelve percent of this year's class hail from one of Ohio's 19 Appalachian counties, and more than 30 members are first-generation students.

Andrea Merry, a native of nearby Rio Grande and a graduate of Rio Grande College, is the first in her family to attend college. "I knew I wanted to enter a healthcare profession, and I am trying to be a trailblazer," she said. Upon graduating she hopes to join the military and become a primary care physician, possibly a pediatrician.

Another first-generation college student is Morgan Werry from Chester in Meigs County. An exercise science education major from Ohio State University, Ms. Werry has wanted to be a physician for as long as she can remember.

"My mom is a licensed practical nurse and she always inspired me," said Ms. Werry. "Another inspirational figure has been Kelly Roush, D.C., a certified athletic trainer specialist." Ms. Werry has worked with Roush over the past four summers.

These two key figures taught Ms. Werry the importance of being a strong role model and inspiring others to achieve more than they think possible. That's why she came back to her friends and family in Meigs County. And she has every intention to stay and practice in southeastern Ohio. "I want to support the local kids and athletes," she said. "They need to be inspired."

The next generation of osteopathic physician-scientists

Thanks to the expansion of the joint D.O./Ph.D. program made possible in part by funding from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations, three incoming students – Ian Ackers, Alison Brittain and Quyen (Jason) Luong – will pursue both a doctorate in osteopathic medicine and a doctor of philosophy degree (Ph.D.).

After completing her first bachelor degree in psychology at Pepperdine University in California, Ms. Brittain returned to her adopted home of Cincinnati to earn a second bachelor's degree, in biology. While conducting endocrine research with a professor at the University of Cincinnati, she decided to become a physician. It was something of a revelation, she said.

"I'd been coaching kids' lacrosse and running a business out west, and then suddenly, at age 24, I realized I wanted to be a doctor! I've always loved studying, so for me the D.O./Ph.D. program is the perfect mix of research and clinical practice."

Shortly after being accepted to OU-HCOM, she decided to continue her endocrine studies and work on growth hormone research with John Kopchick, Ph.D., Goll-Ohio Eminent Scholar and professor of molecular and cellular biology. Ms. Brittain said that her interests in working with Dr. Kopchick are "to better define the role of growth hormone during development and dysfunction."
Mr. Luong from Cleveland said he was most struck by the people he met when he came to the Heritage College. "Everybody was so friendly from the start. It just felt right," he said.

While he loves the idea of having a clinical practice, Mr. Luong said he's always been driven by a desire to find answers. "I want to find a problem and solve it," he said. His research will focus on neuromuscular science.

A commitment to serving our country

Six members of the Class of 2017 are receiving scholarships from various branches of the United States military, which they will enter as physicians upon graduation. For Spencer Hirt, committing to active duty was an easy decision: He'd already served in the Navy Reserve for four years before enrolling at OU-HCOM. "Being a physician has been on the radar for me for a long time," he said.

Introduced to osteopathic medicine by a medical professional acquaintance, Mr. Hirt said attending the Heritage College with the goal of re-enlisting in the Navy seemed like the obvious choice. "The military has been nothing but a blessing in my life. It helped me get through college and it's now helped me get to OU-HCOM."