National medical education leader advises new med students to remember human connection

Jul 24, 2016

Dr. Stephen Shannon speaks at Convocation 2016. (ATHENS, Ohio) The leader of the national advocacy organization for osteopathic medical colleges urged incoming students at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine to never forget that healing requires more than knowledge – it takes a human connection.

“If I leave you today with only one message, it is this,” said Stephen C. Shannon, D.O., M.P.H., president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. “It is not only the evolving and advancing scientific and technological progress of medicine that you need to continually master. It is engaging and remaining in touch with the everyday life of your patients and their families.”

Shannon spoke Saturday at the 41 st Heritage College Convocation and White Coat Ceremony, where incoming medical students were presented with a short white coat symbolic of their status as student doctors. Earlier this month, 246 students began their medical studies at the college’s three campuses in Athens, Dublin and Cleveland as part of the Class of 2020.

Shannon, who received the 2016 Phillips Medal of Public Service during Saturday’s ceremony, told a story of his days as an intern fresh out of medical school. He treated a 53-year-old man who, after decades of working in a shoe factory, had passed out on the job. Though Shannon diagnosed kidney stones – a notoriously painful condition – the patient stoically denied any discomfort when brought to the hospital emergency room. “All he said was that he was OK and wanted to go home,” Shannon recalled.

During the man’s hospital stay, Shannon had conversations with him – mostly around the man’s favorite topic, stitching shoes. Sometime after the man was discharged, Shannon was told a package had been left for him at the hospital’s reception desk - a new pair of perfectly fitting shoes. “The note said, ‘I made these for you. Thanks for taking care of me. P.S. I thought I was going to die,’” Shannon said. “I’m sure that the osteopathic values that I had received in my training – to touch and respect and treat the whole person – are what earned me those shoes.”

Shannon was awarded the Phillips Medal for his decade of work as head of AACOM, during which, according to the award citation, he has helped ensure “that the osteopathic medical profession has a place at the table when health care policy is made.” The Phillips Medal is presented annually by the Heritage College to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in health care, education and/or public service.

Heritage College Executive Dean Kenneth Johnson, D.O., noted that 97 percent of the Class of 2020 come from Ohio, 17 percent come from groups historically under-represented in medicine, and 31 percent are first-generation college students. “Since our college was founded, we have recruited students with a strong sense of altruism and compassion, as well as strong academic performance, and this year’s class is absolutely no exception,” Johnson said.

At his last Heritage College Convocation and White Coat Ceremony before he steps down as Ohio University president next June, Roderick McDavis, Ph.D., noted that this year’s incoming class begins at a time when the college is pursuing “bold initiatives that strengthen our mission of service and our national leadership role in primary care medical education and medical research.”

Speaking on behalf of the college’s three Student Government Association presidents, second-year medical student Cesar Iturriaga, SGA president at the Heritage College, Cleveland, told the new students that wearing the white coat is both a privilege and a responsibility. “Take that responsibility seriously,” he advised. “You will see patients at some of the most vulnerable times in their lives. Treat each person with dignity and respect.”

Before students received their white coats, Johnson told the Class of 2020 that he is incredibly proud they had started their journey toward becoming physicians at the Heritage College. “You have joined a great college, at a great university,” he said. “This is a place where osteopathic leaders are formed.”

Click here  to see a Facebook gallery of pictures from Convocation 2016.

The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is a leader in training dedicated primary care physicians who are prepared to address the most pervasive medical needs in the state and the nation. Approximately 50 percent of Heritage College alumni practice in primary care and nearly 60 percent practice in Ohio. CARE LEADS HERE.