Q&A: New American Osteopathic Association president discusses goals
Thomas L. Ely, DO, FACOFP, FAAFP, the newly sworn-in president of the American Osteopathic Association, said he wants to increase the reach of the osteopathic community, improve vaccination rates and enhance the well-being of the association’s members.
“I am excited to continue a lot of the important work that my predecessors in leadership started,” he said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has sharpened my focus on advocating for our physicians.”
Healio Primary Care spoke with Ely about his agenda as president of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), his professional accomplishments and more.
Q: What are your primary objectives as AOA president?
A: Osteopathic medicine has grown 63% in the past decade and nearly 300% over the past 3 decades. However, many parts of America continue to suffer from physician shortages, especially in rural and underserved areas.
Fortunately, the percentage of practicing physicians in the osteopathic profession in the United States is projected to grow from 12% to 20% by the end of this decade. In addition, 56% of osteopathic physicians practice in a primary care specialty.
The osteopathic profession, by history and tradition, goes where the need is. Therefore, I want to expand the osteopathic community for the benefit of public health by training future doctors to perform care that treats the entire person, heals the entire family, addresses the social determinants of health, and practices medicine in the most-needed specialties.
I would also like to increase vaccination and immunization rates, especially because it is looking very likely we will have two viral illnesses superimposed on each other this fall. Physicians need to encourage patients to continue their routine immunizations to protect them from the illnesses that we all know about and to strongly encourage them to get a flu shot this fall and when there is a vaccine ready to treat COVID-19, we need to also encourage patients to get that one.
I also want to protect the future of our profession to ensure that the osteopathic philosophy and practice continues well into the future.
Q: How will you achieve these objectives?
A: Regarding the expansion of the osteopathic community, we are working with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to improve the number of residency programs that embody the osteopathic philosophy. We have 38 colleges and there are several more coming into existence during the next few years. We are also working to dramatically redesign our CME offerings and board certification processes.
To increase vaccinations and immunizations, I hope to conduct a concerted public health campaign.
In regard to my last objective, to secure the longevity of the osteopathic community, we will continue to hold webinars within our state affiliate societies that encourage physicians suffering physician burnout to seek help. I will continue to advocate for our members’ needs at the local, state and national levels. I also want to revamp our official scientific publication, the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, so that it stands equal to the other recognized medical journals in our country and I want to continue to support research and development within our profession.
Q: What in your professional and personal background uniquely qualifies you to be AOA president?
A: I started my military career as an aeromedical evacuation pilot — the position was called a “dustoff pilot” back then — with the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps during the Vietnam War. Over the course of 13 years, I served in numerous administrative and command positions and worked my way up to the rank of major. I left to go to medical school but upon completion, I returned to the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps and worked my way up to lieutenant colonel until I reached military retirement age.
I then went into private practice in Clarksville, Tennessee, with a classmate of mine. Over time, we evolved our practice and we became co-founders of the largest multi-specialty primary care practice groups in our community. That led to my appointment as chief medical officer at Gateway Medical Center in Clarksville for 13 years, during which time I oversaw the development of a new hospital.
I have learned from every one of my roles and feel I have always been a good listener. I want to hear all the voices of the members in our organization so I can tell their stories and meet their needs.
Q: How is AOA helping its members amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: While osteopathic physicians are neurosurgeons, interventional cardiologists, pediatric neurologists, emergency medicine physicians and practically specialty in between, most of our members are primary care physicians serving on the front lines of the pandemic. Our association is working to aggressively to support our physicians, whether it be by improving access to personal protective equipment, providing telemedicine resources, pushing for financial relief or ensuring physicians are compensated correctly.