Recently, the Los Angeles Times published an opinion piece by Virginia Heffernan, in which she she falsely equates former doctor Larry Nassar’s abusive actions with osteopathic treatment. It is our sincere hope that the public understands that in Ms. Virginia Heffernan’s quest to shed light on the tragedy of Larry Nassar’s abuse of young girls and woman, she has grossly mispresented the practice of osteopathy and maligned all osteopathic physicians along the way.
Larry Nassar sexually abused over 150 girls and young women over the course of his career as a team physician with Michigan State University and the United States Gymnastics Team. Although Nassar was trained as an osteopathic physician, his actions do not represent the principles and practice of osteopathic medicine. Rather, he used a position of power and authority to justify unspeakable acts, and to silence his victims who attempted to speak against him.
Ms. Heffernan’s description of osteopathic training and principles is wrong and uninformed. Osteopathic doctors are trained in competitive, four-year medical schools, complete intensive residency programs, and are Board certified healthcare providers. Just like allopathic physicians (MDs), osteopathic physicians (DOs) are trained to “first do no harm.” Additionally, osteopaths approach the practice of medicine with an understanding that the body is comprised of complex systems, each influencing one another. Osteopathic physicians, or DOs, view the patient as a whole, employing all the tools of modern medicine to treat the root cause of pain and illness, not simply to eradicate symptoms. Over 100,000 osteopathic physicians practice in almost every specialty, work in every state, and can be found in most medical institutions, whether urban, suburban, or rural, as well as in underserved communities and institutions of higher learning.
Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) is a proven means of relieving pain, promoting healing, and preventing injury that is a form of treatment tool employed by DOs. When used appropriately, OMT can often replace or supplement the use of drugs or surgery. OMT requires trust, transparency, honest communication, and respect.
Larry Nassar hid and justified his predatory behavior by falsely claiming he was performing osteopathic manipulative treatment on his victims. While there is a clinical practice called intrapelvic manipulation, none of his victims described that procedure. Nassar’s acts were reprehensible and done by a predator for his own pleasure, and not in the name of medicine.
The American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians remains committed to the principles of osteopathic medicine; the science and best practices that produce long-term health; and above all, the safety and trust of patients who place their well-being in our hands. As a medical community it is our responsibility to ensure that patients are protected, and actively fight against those who would hide behind systems and status as a means of perpetrating acts of violence.
Nassar’s victims were failed on many levels. It is the duty of all physicians, trainers, educators, and coaches to safeguard athletes put under their charge. Now is the time for all those responsible for training our young people, in all areas of competition and sports, to guarantee that an atrocity like this never happens again. But it is also important to get the facts straight. It is our sincere hope that Ms. Heffernan corrects her gross misrepresentation of osteopathic medicine.
If you have any questions regarding this article, please contact ACOEP’s Director of Communications, Erin Sernoffsky.