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Executive Board Director Rick Whitehouse (far right) discusses State Medical Board cases with first-year OU-COM students (from left) Diana Haninger, Steven Baird and Anthony Posevitz.

First: Do No Harm

OU-COM teams up with State Medical Board to train ethical physicians

By Anita Martin

On an icy February morning, Ohio University medical students Diana Haninger and Anthony Posevitz drive to Columbus – not for a seminar or clinical observations, but to watch medical professionals defend their licenses. Along with their first-year classmates, the two will observe a meeting of the State Medical Board of Ohio (SMB), the regulatory body for state medical professionals.

In collaboration with the board, the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-COM) launched the Partners in Professionalism Series 2007-08, which requires first-year OU-COM students to attend an SMB meeting and related programming. This partnership – the first of its kind in Ohio – reflects shared goals of both college and board: to better prepare students for the professional and ethical expectations they will face as physicians.  

“It’s all about professionalism,” says OU-COM Dean Jack Brose, D.O. “Students should know the board’s policies and requirements so they can avoid future violations. I also want them to develop a relationship with the board and to understand that the board’s function is not solely punitive; they are there to help physicians through issues and to improve the quality of public health care.”

Last August, mere days after their formal white-coat induction into medical school, all first-year OU-COM students attended an introduction to the board, presented by its executive director, Rick Whitehouse. Nearly every month since, a different group of first-year students has attended a board meeting in Columbus – each preceded by a video conference, during which Whitehouse and Joan Wehrle, SMB executive staff coordinator, discuss current board cases.

As they head up route 33, Haninger and Posevitz clearly have a lot on their minds. “Nelsonville is the atrioventricular valve between Athens and Columbus, slowing down the traffic flow,” quips Haninger, repeating one of her teachers’ mnemonic metaphors. Despite the burden of an upcoming cardiovascular exam, the students appreciate the value of this board visit.

“OU is very proactive in its instruction,” Posevitz says. “They really want us to be aware of all the aspects of the medical profession.”

Once at the meeting, students settle in behind a row of probationers. This month’s board cases range from severe (gross sexual imposition) to commonplace (failure to meet precise licensure qualifications). But according to board secretary, Lance Talmage, M.D., most cases at any meeting deal with chemical impairment – almost always alcohol. Not surprising since, as Talmage points out, 10 percent of all people are prone to alcohol dependency. Talmage adds that he joined the board primarily to help rehabilitate such medical professionals – a sentiment shared by the board as a whole.

“Whenever possible we want to keep someone in practice or restore them to practice, while ensuring public safety first and foremost,” Whitehouse says. “It’s somewhat a compassionate act, but it’s also just good public policy. Considering the investment that you’ve made and society’s made in your education, it’s in everyone’s interest to rehabilitate and retain qualified medical professionals when we can – as long as we’re sure the public will be protected.” 

One of the last probationers stands before the board. To fuel his workaholic tendencies, this physician – who managed emergency medicine full time at one hospital and moonlighted at three other facilities – began abusing the prescription drug Ritalin. During his statement, he turns to directly address the students in white coats at the back of the room. 

“This has been an essential education for me,” he says, referring to his probation and rehabilitation. “I still love the ER, but I was not living a balanced lifestyle. Life is not only about being a doctor. That job is to be taken seriously, but you have to learn to live a balanced lifestyle.” 

The State Medical Board hopes to extend similar academic partnerships to other medical schools in Ohio. With limited seating at board meetings, SMB is looking into electronic resources, such as videotaping meetings for distribution among Ohio medical schools.

Rookie medical students may be years from their own licensure, but board member Anita Steinbergh, D.O., insists it’s never too early to start thinking about medical professionalism and ethics. “We’re very focused on meeting the needs of young people in medicine and preventing them from getting into trouble. This (partnership) is a great opportunity to make a difference in their lives.”


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Last updated: 01/28/2016