NASA psychiatrist alum tells Heritage College graduates, “Plan to change”

May 9, 2016

Images from Commencement 2016 (ATHENS, Ohio) When Ronald C. Moomaw, D.O. (’80), entered Ohio University’s then-new osteopathic medical college as part of its first incoming class 40 years ago, he had 23 classmates. On Saturday, at the 37 th Commencement of the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Moomaw addressed a graduating class more than five times that size.

The numbers aren’t all that have changed in four decades, said Moomaw, now a psychiatrist and flight surgeon at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Today’s graduating medical student has “no less than three times the understanding of the practice of medicine that we had 40 years ago,” he said. Study of the human genome “is changing medicine as we sit here, and in the near future, you will be using the human genome as a routine piece of your treatment.”

Moomaw recalled that when he entered the medical college in 1976 – just a year after the Ohio Legislature passed a bill creating it – renovation work was still underway, and at times the classrooms were so cold students could see their breath. With the legislation mandating that the college be up and running within a year after the law was signed, Moomaw said, there was “no guarantee that it would not die on the tarmac.”

Instead, he said, it “is now soaring to heights beyond anyone’s expectations.” And by making him a member of its first class, “this school … gave me the chance to have the most fascinating life I could possibly imagine,” Moomaw said.

To make the most of their own life experiences, Moomaw urged the 2016 graduates to expect and embrace the unexpected. “What makes life wonderful is not what you can anticipate,” he said. “It’s not having control over everything.” His advice: “Think strategically and tactically. Plan your life to adapt to change. Plan to change, and do not fear stepping out of the box.”

Watch a video of Moomaw's speech.

Class of 2016 President Grant E. Highley encouraged his classmates to continue to grow, both as new doctors and as people, as they being their medical careers. “Our knowledge of disease processes and medication interactions makes us great students, but it is our ability to interact and empathize with our patients that will make us exceptional physicians,” he said.

With 129 new physicians, the class of 2016 is the largest graduating class in the college’s history. Among those receiving degrees Saturday were the first five graduates from the college’s Rural and Urban Scholars Pathways program. The RUSP program prepares future physicians to practice in medically underserved communities. The program was made possible through funding from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations.

Eleven members of the class pursuing careers as military physicians were also recognized. One of them, Adam Jara, also completed a dual degree program, earning a D.O degree after receiving his Ph.D. from Ohio University in 2014.

“Our graduates came to us from many different backgrounds, with widely diverse interests, yet they all share several common traits: intelligence, motivation, compassion, and a commitment to becoming exceptional doctors,” said Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis, Ph.D.

Approximately half of the Heritage College class of 2016 will pursue residencies in primary care specialties, and more than 70 percent will be staying in Ohio for their graduate medical education.

“Whatever specialty you have chosen, the skills you have acquired are unique and important,” Heritage College Executive Dean Kenneth H. Johnson, D.O., told graduates. “It is you, the class of 2016, who will lead the transformation of patient care, and carry forward the rich traditions of our college and our profession.”

The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is a leader in training dedicated primary care physicians who are prepared to address the most pervasive medical needs in the state and the nation. Approximately 50 percent of Heritage College alumni practice in primary care and nearly 60 percent practice in Ohio. CARE LEADS HERE.