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Letters to the Editor  |   November 2012
Oral Histories—Get Them Live!
Author Affiliations
  • John C. Stiger, DO
    Oak Grove, Oregon
Article Information
Medical Education / Pediatrics / Practice Management / Being a DO
Letters to the Editor   |   November 2012
Oral Histories—Get Them Live!
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, November 2012, Vol. 112, 705-706. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2012.112.11.705
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, November 2012, Vol. 112, 705-706. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2012.112.11.705
To the Editor: 
In fall 2011, I had the privilege of assisting in the interview process of selecting the class of 2016 at the new Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest in Lebanon, Oregon. As might be expected, many of the candidates had little or no understanding of what the term osteopathic meant. It was also evident that the candidates did not have a very clear understanding of the rich history of osteopathic medicine in the state of Oregon. In fairness, it is also evident that most of the DOs practicing in the state have, at best, a very vague idea of the history of the profession in the state. Until recently, I was in the same group. 
As a recently retired general practitioner searching for some new way to be useful, I realized that now was a great time to satisfy my curiosity regarding the history of the osteopathic medical profession in Oregon. I started my search by reading what I could find on the subject only to learn that very little had been written on the topic here and seemingly throughout the United States. It became clear that I would have to begin at the source: I contacted DOs who had retired before me, and I asked if they would be willing to tell me their stories. These were physicians with whom I had associated at Eastmoreland Hospital and other hospitals accredited by the American Osteopathic Association in the surrounding area. I found that these DOs were a rich source of information and that they were more than willing to tell their stories. (Alas, many are getting on in years, and all too often they disappear from the radar before they can be interviewed. This has been especially true of the physicians who started practice during or shortly after World War II.) 
These initial interviews provided me with names of other DOs who have practiced in the area in earlier times. I also found other information through online sources and in interviews with relatives and friends of DOs who are no longer with us. 
With each interview, I have become more and more appreciative of the wonderful contributions these physicians have made to their patients, to their communities, and to the osteopathic medical profession, as well as to the future of the profession by working with students. Often these DOs practiced in small towns where they were the only physician, where they were allowed to practice osteopathic medicine in its fullest scope. The people of these towns were not interested in what sort of physician they had but whether the physician had what it took to take care of them and their families. That meant that the DOs were on call most of the time to deliver babies, make house calls, and attend to emergencies, surgeries, and all the medical care responsibilities of the folks in the area. Some of the stories of the feats of these DOs are amazing. It is little wonder that several of these towns have museum spaces dedicated to a DO or a park named in honor of a DO. 
My state organization, the Osteopathic Physicians & Surgeons of Oregon, has supported my project to document the history of osteopathic medicine in Oregon, with David Walls, the executive director, assisting in some editing. What we have written so far can be found on the association's Web site (http://www.opso.org/) under “Stories of Osteopathic Medicine in Oregon.” 
Throughout this process, I have learned a few lessons that I would like to share with others interested in pursuing such an endeavor:
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    Prepare a list of topics that will be discussed, and then e-mail the questions to the interviewee in advance (this allows the interviewee time to organize his or her memories).
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    Try to conduct the interview in a quiet, comfortable location; the interviewee's home is usually best.
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    For a physician still in practice, budget an hour or so in his or her office at his or her convenience.
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    Include the spouse in the interview, as I have found that he or she usually played a very important role in the DO's career.
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    Keep the interview on track by following the list sent by e-mail.
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    Take notes and always record the conversations.
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    Type a version of the interview and send it to the interviewee for his or her approval or edits.
In Oregon, and I suspect in many other states, the contribution of the osteopathic medical profession to the well-being and health care of communities has not been adequately documented or appreciated. It is my hope that my efforts and those of others will once and for all document the importance of the osteopathic medical profession and the philosophy of patient care that we as DOs embody. 
I urge fellow DOs and osteopathic medical students to interview these retirees and learn their stories. We must not let this history disappear!