As a pediatrician working in Philadelphia, I find there are two annoying assumptions that people I meet for the first time at national medical conferences or even at social gatherings often make.
The first is that they assume I work at CHOP, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. A minor annoyance. The second, and much more frustrating, is that I am an M.D., instead of the proud D.O., doctor of osteopathic medicine, that I chose to be.
President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnoses — and the fact that his personal physician, Sean Conley, is also a D.O. who like me graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine — has brought all this up for me as I’ve watched social media explode with speculations about D.O.s.
After nearly 25 years in practice, I am the medical director of one of the largest outpatient pediatric practices on the East Coast, at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. I am also the medical director of our decades-old Medical Legal Partnership at St. Chris, which has teamed up with the Legal Clinic for the Disabled. This makes it possible to have onsite free lawyers who can advocate for families in need and has screened more than 40,000 families. I also direct the Reach Out and Read program at St. Chris for almost two decades, which promotes early-childhood literacy by providing families with reading guidance and brand new books at every well visit.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am also leading the efforts to do rapid testing for our patients, ensuring that families are aware of basic resources for those affected by COVID-19, such as free food, eviction protection, and benefits through cap4kids.org/Philadelphia, the website I developed in 2004. I also work with the city to help provide community-wide testing in North Philadelphia, where COVID-19 deaths are highest.
My professional biography has been shaped by numerous collaborators and mentors, and especially by our North Philadelphia community and the beautiful families whom I serve.
But it was my mother’s influence that brought me to Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) in the fall of 1992.
Phyllis Taylor’s career at PCOM’s health-care centers as a hospice nurse and educator at the height of the AIDS epidemic helped me understand the incredible prejudice, pain and courage that her patients experienced. At the same time, I witnessed the unwavering dedication that my mother and the physicians and staff at PCOM displayed at the bedside as well as while marching on the streets with the advocacy group ACT-UP.
My mother would come home with stories of working at the side of osteopathic surgeons who performed lifesaving procedures on those with aggressive intestinal diseases that left some with ostomy bags, altering their way of life. And she explained how the team helped them regain dignity, comfort and acceptance.
I have a picture in my study of the April 1973 cover of Philadelphia Magazine titled “The New Therapy,” with the image of a serene nurse holding a dying woman in her arms. The nurse is my mother.
My mother’s hands guided her patients through the most profound of moments — a dignified death. Her hands have held countless grieving family members, physicians and caretakers. Those same hands also helped guide me.
Much has been written over the years, and again recently, about the similarities and differences between M.D.s and D.O.s. Both undergo rigorous study in the field of medicine. Graduates apply to and fulfill the same residencies and fellowships. In the United States, the same licensing boards give licenses to both types of doctor. They practice in all fields of medicine from pediatrics to neurosurgery.
Along with my mother’s experiences, what drew me to osteopathic medicine was its emphasis on the mind-body-spirit connection and the body’s ability to heal itself in many situations. This holistic, hands-on approach, looking through a patient’s lens of their illness, cemented my calling. In 1992, I began a career that started in a small anatomy classroom on City Line Avenue, and with my head, hands, and heart, has allowed me to serve so many over the years and to share their stories, this one being the 79th to appear here in The Inquirer.
I stand on the shoulders of a century of osteopathic physicians who have served patients worldwide. I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with inspirational allopathic and osteopathic physicians, nurse practitioners, social workers, lawyers and staff in my practice at St. Chris. Together, we deliver holistic care to some of the most vulnerable children in our nation. This is my greatest joy. My greatest honor. Thanks, Mom.