In Your Words  |   September 2017
What Osteopathic Physicians Do
Author Notes
  • Financial disclosure: None reported. 
  • Support: None reported. 
  •  *Address correspondence to John R. Gimpel, DO, MEd, President and CEO, National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners, 101 W Elm St, Suite 230, Conshohocken, PA 19428-2075. Email:
Article Information
Medical Education / Neuromusculoskeletal Disorders / Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology / Psychiatry / Sports Medicine / Being a DO / In Your Words / Graduate Medical Education
In Your Words   |   September 2017
What Osteopathic Physicians Do
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, September 2017, Vol. 117, 602-603. doi:
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, September 2017, Vol. 117, 602-603. doi:
I recently attended the funeral mass of renowned osteopathic surgeon John (“Jack”) Finley, DO. Packed into the picturesque setting of a suburban Detroit Catholic chapel were countless family and friends, osteopathic physicians (ie, DOs) and leaders from osteopathic medical organizations, clergy, and a number of professional ice hockey's elite, including Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Ted Lindsay. No doubt Gordie Howe, who died about a year ago and was a close friend and patient of Dr Finley, was looking down with appreciation along with hundreds of other National Hockey League greats who were cared for by the revered “Hockeytown Doc” for more than 5 decades. 
I met Dr Finley through his son, and my friend, Michael, a third-generation DO. Although I had heard several stories about many of the hockey greats, it was through the eyes of the parish priest, Monsignor Zenz, that I learned so much more about Jack and about this priest's view of what we do as osteopathic physicians. Monsignor Zenz related Dr Jack Finley as one who “accompanies,” connecting eloquently to the chosen Gospel reading that day on the walk to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-53). In this biblical passage, Jesus unceremoniously and inconspicuously joined 2 disciples in walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus shortly after His resurrection. The story describes how Jesus accompanied them, walking by their side and listening to them on their journey. Connecting this story to Dr Finley, his extraordinary life, and his vocation as a DO, the soft-spoken Monsignor opined, “And isn't that what an osteopathic doctor does?” 
Relating to an audience of many DOs among Jack's family and friends, Monsignor reminded us, “You accompany, you walk with, listen…not in charge of…but you journey along with, and you do so with humility, integrity, love.” He described the vocation of being a DO and how Dr Finley embodied these values while helping to bring healing to others in the inner city of Detroit, to professional hockey players, and to his family and community. 
I felt privileged to be with this loving family and community in celebrating Dr Finley's inspirational life. But the external view from this thoughtful priest of what a DO does, to accompany our patients, and how Jack was seen to do this throughout his career, is one that I feel compelled to share with my colleagues, students, and friends: We accompany. We listen. 
We recognize the body-mind-spirit connections and that there is a tremendous innate capacity to heal within each person, and we accompany patients as they tap into this capacity in sickness and in health. Yes, we stitch and splint them up, as Dr Finley did the hockey players hundreds of times. Of course we judiciously prescribe medications, to help, to prevent, and to treat, and we perform diagnostic and surgical procedures. And we treat with osteopathic manipulative treatment and counseling. But Monsignor Zenz did not specifically mention any of these diagnostic or treatment tools. He described through his eyes what we do, and what Dr Finley did, as accompanying. For my DO colleagues, in essence, that is “doctors that DO.” 
The practice of medicine is in crisis. Physicians, residents, and medical students are reporting burnout, anxiety, and depression, and rates of physician suicide have escalated in recent years.1,2 The causes are multifactorial, and most of us are well aware of the contributors of these problems as well as the challenges to addressing them. But perhaps some of us have lost our way and the meaning of what we do. 
We can easily lose sight of the privilege we are granted as osteopathic physicians, to be able to accompany our patients on their journeys. This is our vocation, and one in which the rewards come predominately from giving and from accompanying, and doing so in a humble, loving way. I believe remaining connected to this calling and this privilege, and remembering to be present, to listen, and to accompany our patients, will assist all of us in continually finding meaning in what we do and providing exceptionally good care to those we serve. 
Thank you, Jack. May your example help lead us forward. 
Piccinini RG, McRae KD, Becher JW, et al Addressing burnout, depression, and suicidal ideation in the osteopathic profession: an approach that spans the physician life cycle. NAM Perspectives. March 24, 2017. Accessed July 17, 2017.
Facts about physician depression and suicide. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website. Accessed July 14, 2017.