As President Donald Trump remains hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus last week, a Doylestown-native and graduate of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine is overseeing his treatment.
This weekend, Dr. Sean P. Conley has emerged as the public face of updates on the president’s health and has thus far delivered an optimistic assessment of Trump’s condition.
But his daily updates have also put him at the center of controversy on the accuracy of the information he has released. Asked on Sunday whether he had downplayed the seriousness of Trump’s condition, Conley told reporters: “I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude of the team, that the president, that his course of illness has had.”
Flanked by a team of doctors outside the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Sunday, Conley, 40, said that if things keep on their current course Trump could be back at the White House next week.
“The fact of the matter is he’s doing really well,” he said. “He’s responding … and if everything continues to go well, we’re going to start discharge planning.”
But Conley’s remarks from the same podium a day earlier — when he appeared to indicate that the president had been sick for a full day and a half before announcing his infection Friday morning — stoked new questions about Trump’s health and whether he knowingly exposed others to the disease, sending the White House scrambling to do damage control.
His assessment of the president’s condition also clashed with statements Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows made shortly after that briefing that the president was “not on a clear path yet to a full recovery."
Here’s what we know about Conley:
He grew up in Bucks County and earned his medical degree in Philadelphia.
Born in 1980, Conley was raised in Doylestown and graduated from Central Bucks High School East in 1998. He left the area to attend Notre Dame University but returned for medical school where he received a degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2006.
His wife, Kristin, with whom he has three children, is also a doctor and attended the same medical school. Before that, she graduated from Gwynedd Mercy Academy in Lower Gwynedd and from LaSalle University, according to their 2004 wedding announcement in the Doylestown Intelligencer.
The couple now lives in Maryland.
He became the president’s doctor two years ago.
Conley has served in the role of White House physician since 2018, after Trump picked his predecessor, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, to become secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Jackson’s nomination was later derailed amid allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior. Nevertheless, Conley’s selection to replace him as Trump’s personal doctor sailed ahead and he took over the position in May of 2018.
Before this week, he has rarely sought the public eye and only interacted with the press on limited occasions, including in the aftermath of an unannounced visit to Walter Reed Trump made last year, and which became public last month.
At the president’s urging, Conley issued a statement after that visit saying Trump had not suffered from or been examined for symptoms of a stroke or a heart-related emergency.
Since the president’s coronavirus diagnosis, he has led a team of doctors treating Trump that also includes heart and lung specialists.
He is an osteopathic physician.
Since Conley emerged as the face of Trump’s coronavirus treatment, speculation has run rampant on social media about his qualifications, with some stating incorrectly that osteopathic physicians are not “real doctors” or are the equivalent of chiropractors.
But doctors practicing in the field are fully licensed, must meet the same standards as doctors in other fields of medicine, and can deliver conventional treatments and prescribe medicine.
According to the American Osteopathic Association, osteopathic physicians focus on prevention as well as a patient’s lifestyle and environment to improve their overall physical wellbeing.
Historically, the gap between D.O.s, or doctors of osteopathic medicine, and M.D.s, doctors of medicine, was wider. Osteopathic physicians focused on caring holistically for the patient’s health rather than only treating specific symptoms or illnesses.
But these days, most patients might not even notice a difference in the care or treatments they would receive, said Rick Pescatore, chief physician of the Delaware Division of Public Health and a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“There’s zero difference," Pescatore said, in how a medical doctor and an osteopathic physician would treat many conditions, including the coronavirus.
Trained at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Conley completed his residence at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Portsmouth, Va., and later served as the research director at the Portsmouth Navy Department of Emergency Medicine. He is board certified in emergency medicine.
“The rigors of emergency medicine certification are not trivial," Pescatore said. “Politics aside, I have every reason to believe he’s an informed physician.”
He approved of the president taking hydroxychloroquine.
Conley’s first foray into the public arena came in May, when he issued a statement announcing that the president was taking the malaria-drug hydroxychloroquine as a preventative treatment against the coronavirus.
Though Trump has repeatedly touted the drug as an effective treatment, many doctors have questioned its effectiveness and safety, especially for elderly patients. A month before Trump started his course of therapy on the drug, the Food and Drug Administration warned it should only be used in hospitals or in clinical trials, and advised that it could trigger dangerous heart rhythms in patients.
Still, Conley said in a statement that he and the president had “concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.”
Conley did not say at the time whether he prescribed the treatment for Trump.
But speaking to reporters Saturday outside Walter Reed, Conley said that the president has not been treated with hydroxychloroquine since his diagnosis.
He served in Afghanistan in 2014.
While deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 as a lieutenant commander in the Navy, Conley served as an emergency physician with the International Security Assistance Force in Kandahar.
While there, he and a team of doctors were awarded the Romanian Emblem of Honor for their role in saving the life of a Romanian soldier who was injured by an improvised explosive device.