A Proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine: Q&A With Dr. Peter Bell

The proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine at Baptist Health Sciences University is one step closer to becoming a reality. Baptist learned this week that the proposed college has achieved candidacy status and can move forward on the path to becoming accredited.

Dr. Peter Bell, vice provost and dean of medical education at BHSU, shared more about this development and plans for the medical school.

What does having candidacy status mean for the proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine at BHSU?

Gaining candidate status gives us public recognition in the accreditation process, and it’s posted on the website of the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA).

We have 24 months to achieve pre-accreditation status. We’re now in the process of applying for pre-accreditation and hope to get approval in May 2023. Once we have pre-accreditation status, we can recruit students for the fall of 2024.

What is the plan for the renovation and construction for the medical school on the BHSU campus?

We have weekly meetings and have finalized plans for construction to start in October. We’re looking forward to sharing more details soon.

What would you like everyone to understand about DO degrees?

The Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree trains one to practice medicine and surgery. A DO undergoes a rigorous exam process during and after medical school to obtain a medical license, which also involves a background check. It’s not just knowledge and skills that are important, but also character.

Osteopathic doctors are trained in a philosophy that emphasizes wellness and prevention while also learning diagnosis and treatment of diseases. This philosophy includes an emphasis on nutrition, exercise, mental health, body biomechanics and spiritual well-being.

An osteopathic doctor may prioritize what the patient wants to work on to maintain or restore health and discuss those options with the patient. While an osteopathic doctor would prescribe medication for a disease, such as Type 2 diabetes, the goal would be to make lifestyle changes that would improve blood sugar — and maybe even eliminate the need for medication. An osteopathic doctor would try to get the patient back to a normal homeostasis.

Can physicians with MD and DO degrees do the same things?

Yes, in terms of Western medicine and surgery. Some osteopathic doctors may decide to receive additional training in complementary or alternative medicine, but training in biomechanics is standard for all osteopathic doctors.

The biomechanical model is another modality we can use in an active treatment process. It’s structural medicine applied with an understanding of nerve input and output, the vascular-lymphatic system, and the relationships between muscle, skeleton and organs. An osteopathic doctor would explore why a patient is having pain or organ dysfunction and how everything interrelates.

Why will the College of Osteopathic Medicine focus on training primary care doctors?

Osteopathic doctors trained in primary care are a good fit for the Mid-South. More than 50% of osteopathic doctors practice family medicine, general internal medicine or general pediatrics. Others go into specialties like emergency medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and general surgery. We need both specialists and primary care physicians, but it’s the primary care DOs who help fill a critical need by practicing in rural and underserved communities.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Now that we have candidate status, I’m looking forward to identifying regional supporters of the school, including those who would like to lend their academic, practical and financial backing to make the school a success.

It’s not about any one health care system. This College of Osteopathic Medicine is going to benefit everyone. I want people to say, “I’m willing to participate.” This school is important because Baptist is opening more access to essential health care in the Mid-South.