Meet the New Faces in the Region’s Medical Community

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The Student Doctor 
Will See You Now!

After two years of countless study hours, classes and exams, the inaugural class of student doctors at Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine (LUCOM) will step out into the real world as they begin clinical rotations at local hospitals and primary care offices starting this August. >>
“I’m looking forward to interacting with patients. We’ve spent a lot of time studying, and I have missed working with real people. The chance to apply what we have all learned in class….is why we study so diligently,” said student doctor Zach Jensen, who was assigned to be on rotations in the Lynchburg region for the next two years.

The expectations are high for Jensen and his peers, according to Ronnie B. Martin, D.O., dean of LUCOM, who explains that his goal for the student doctors isn’t just passing exams but surpassing the standard expectation of patient care. “Boards measure competency, but we think our goal should be excellence,” said Dr. Martin.

As the pioneer class of LUCOM, the recruitment of these student doctors was taken very seriously. According to Martin, each candidate was painstakingly selected not only for academic prowess and achievements, but also for their humanity. Student doctor Fon Sawitree Kongmuang-Dew, who will also be on rotations in the Lynchburg region, explains that her parents were her biggest influence in her decision to become a doctor. “My mom is a retired nurse and that took a toll on her. She has had chronic back pain for almost a decade…and it pains me to see her suffer through rounds of doctor visits, physical therapies, [and]medications…but nothing makes her feel better. So I hope I can use OMM [osteopathic manipulative medicine]to relieve her and my patients’ pain soon.”

Student doctor Josh Reynolds, also assigned to Lynchburg, expounds on this idea and explains that through his training he will be able to serve his community in a unique way.

“Being able to approach a patient’s health from multiple directions gives them the best opportunity to thrive. It also shows them that I truly care about their health, rather than just earning a paycheck.”

In addition to their humanity, LUCOM student doctors represent various ethnic, religious and social backgrounds. In many cases, they have put their adult lives on hold to pursue a calling to a second career. Statistically, the majority of the students recruited to LUCOM are first-generation physicians, second-career students from rural areas. They are selected in the hopes that they will take their skills back into underserved populations through primary/preventative care. Throughout the first two years of medical school, it has been a priority for Martin and his team of faculty to engage the student doctors in a way that enables the future physicians to fulfill their goals for positive change. Martin explains their simple yet profound approach is to “feed the brain in the classroom and feed the heart in medical outreach.”

In fact, many in Central Virginia have already been introduced to the student doctors through events at the Jubilee Center, The Free Clinic of Central Virginia, domestic violence shelters, the YMCA, Runk and Pratt and medical missions locally and internationally. Kongmuang-Dew adds that her ambitions are to improve her community through pediatric neurology. “I’d like to be part of children’s development and help them and their families…so that they can grow up… and reach their best potential and hopefully be part of helping make the world a better place.”

As students pursuing a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O) degree, in contrast to Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree or allopathic medicine, they are taught based on a fundamental philosophy that sets them apart in their approach to patient care.

Among these philosophies is the foundation that each individual patient should be treated as a whole being—mind, body and soul. Osteopathic medicine operates through a belief that the body is capable of healing itself with minimal outside interference.

These doctors integrate osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) into their practice, where they use their hands to treat and even prevent illness and injury. As Martin explains, “Being well is more than not being diseased. We are so much more than just disease. It’s about the treatment of the patient.”
Kongmuang-Dew says she was drawn to osteopathic medicine because of its holistic approach. “The emphasis on treating patients holistically and respecting each person’s unique character and background is what impresses me the most. As a neuroscientist and a Buddhist, I value the harmony of the brain, body, mind, and spirit, and this aligns well with osteopathic medicine.”

Lily Daniel, another student doctor preparing for Lynchburg rotations, states that in addition to approaching the patient as a whole person,
she has learned through osteopathic medicine that trust is paramount.

“I really love the purposeful treatment of the ‘whole patient.’

As a physician, I think it is important to inquire about mental and spiritual health on a regular basis as it can greatly affect their ability to maintain physical health. I think medicine is losing some of its ability to maintain personal, doctor-patient relationships. Trust is an important aspect of that relationship and inquiring about your patient’s life outside of their illness and getting to know them allows you to build that trust.”

Equipped with these philosophies and an understanding of medicine and manipulation techniques, these student doctors are prepared to venture into our communities to educate, assess and enable patients to reach their health goals, under the guidance of local physicians. Martin explains that even in a community where there is an established expectation of excellent care, the physicians themselves will be stepping up their game when mentoring student doctors because they will be leading by example. Also, as the physician does rounds with a student doctor, a thorough explanation of treatment and dialog will be taking place between team members. “Students do a tremendous time of slowing the process down to give that individualized time and attention,” said Martin.

Martin further explains that having student doctors do their rotations locally will create a draw for them to come back to the area, infusing Central Virginia with more local practitioners.

“We know there are studies that show that if student doctors and residents are treated professionally and respectfully they will stay in the community and will improve access to healthcare.

It also has a big economic impact.”

For Daniel, a fond experience in Central Virginia was exactly what brought her back. “This community welcomed our family over 20 years ago, and [it]has been a wonderful place for us to grow, work and play. It was an easy choice to come back here to train and hopefully give back in some way,” said Daniel.
Bringing more healthcare providers to the area not only has a direct impact on the economy but also creates an environment where healthcare becomes more competitive and easily accessed.

This is particularly important as parts of Central Virginia are amongst the most underserved in the United States.

The goal of LUCOM, as Martin explains, is to put many of its student doctors back into community-based practices with a focus on preventative care. “[Our] primary goal is not research or subspecialties. Our mission is to graduate community-based physicians who work towards improving the lives and status of patients.”

Having these ambitious student doctors in hospitals and doctor’s offices is an exciting new horizon for Central Virginia. Student doctor Miranda Westbrook hopes the community is as excited as they are to take the region’s healthcare to a new level. “I think that we’ve been really well-prepared for clinical rotations, and I’m ready to put my skills to the test. There’s going to be a lot of growth and learning that’s going to occur, and I’m excited to have the opportunity!”

By Tiffany Lyttle

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