Doctor Mike talks osteopathic medicine

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mikhail Varshavski, D.O., better known to the world of Instagram and YouTube as Doctor Mike, spoke to a packed house at our Ohio Osteopathic Symposium in Columbus on Saturday, April 27, about social media and medicine. As a regular contributor to national television shows and online publications, Doctor Mike has established himself as a leader within the field of digital health care communications, and he’s widely known as the most-followed doctor on social media. His message to the osteopathic physicians and medical students attending OOS? Doctors need to raise their voices in the media to combat the growing amount of incorrect medical information being communicated, especially on social media.

Doctor Mike, who emigrated with his family from Saransk, Russia, to Brooklyn, N.Y., at the age of 6, graduated from the New York Institute of Technology in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in life sciences and a doctorate in osteopathic medicine via an accelerated 7-year track. He completed his family medicine residency in 2017 with honors. He now is a board-certified family physician in Summit, N.J., who emphasizes the importance of preventive medicine, lifestyle modifications and patient empowerment through both his practice and outreach activities. In late 2015, Doctor Mike launched his own charity, The Limitless Tomorrow Foundation, and he has partnered with several other philanthropic organizations including Stand Up 2 Cancer, AmeriCares and the Susan G. Komen Foundation. In addition to his work with patients, Doctor Mike also routinely trains medical students in the clinical setting.

Following his presentation, Doctor Mike shared his thoughts about osteopathic medicine.

What attracted you to osteopathic medicine as a career?

Most kids don’t see their family members become doctors, but because I came to America when I was 6, I saw my father train as a D.O. at NYIT-COM. And me being 9 years old at the time, I witnessed his journey through medical school, residency, him practicing OMM on me. I was an athlete, so I would have injuries all the time. And he would treat them, and they’d go away. It blew my mind how a hands-on approach was a very meaningful way that you can connect with a person. You can actually treat what ails them without using medications. Now, that’s more important than ever because of what’s going on with the opioid epidemic. I have an alternative treatment plan within my toolkit that other doctors who are not trained in OMM [osteopathic manipulative medicine] don’t have. So, when I first fell in love with OMM, I fell in love with it because it worked on me, and I said I wanted to learn it. And now, I’m in love with it because it offers my patients an approach that’s proven, that works and that’s so low risk that it’s just amazing to have ability to do that.

Why did you decide to become a family physician?

Again, my father is a huge influence here. He was a family medicine doctor back in Russia, and when he came to the states, he followed the same path here as well. Watching him go through his training, I saw the connection he made with his patients. They became friends. They became part of the family. It was almost as if he was having friends come in and ask for advice, even though they were his patients. When you have that kind of relationship, that’s when you can have meaningful change. When you go see a doctor in an urgent care setting or an emergency room setting, that’s great for urgent matters, quick fixes, that sort of thing. But if you’re truly trying to change someone’s life, improve the quality of their life, extend their life, the only way you can do that is with a relationship. And the field that I saw that had that was family medicine.

You can deliver a baby, take care of the baby, take care of the baby’s parents. I’ve actually had an amazing situation where a couple came in to see me. They were having some sexual difficulties. I helped them get through that, and they were able to conceive a child. They conceived that child, and I delivered that child. Then, that child is my patient. The grandparents have now since emigrated from South America, and they’re my patients now, too. So, it truly allows me to see the scope of family medicine. That’s what I love.

Why should people who are thinking about a career in medicine consider attending an osteopathic medical school?

Because it [osteopathic medicine] offers an approach that’s truly time-tested and gives results. Connecting on a holistic level is so important, especially in the day and age we live in, where information is thrown at you so quickly. Having a doctor you can truly relate to and find common ground with is so important. They don’t just know you as your disease process or what’s wrong with you. They view you as a person first; that’s the beauty of becoming an osteopathic physician. You truly understand the art of how to take care of another human, as opposed to taking care of a disease process. And having a way to do that, through learning a skill that’s hands-on, that’s useful. Not only does it give you another tool in your toolkit, but you also become overall better with your physical exam. You learn how to palpate better. You learn that the art of the physical exam should not be lost because it carries such tremendous value. Where I trained, it was a dually-accredited program with MDs and DOs, and I saw how much more adept I was in being hands-on with my patients and knowing what was bothering them and diagnosing certain physical conditions. I think that’s tremendous advantage that people should really consider.

You completed an accelerated training program, through which you received your bachelor’s and DO degrees. The Heritage College has an accelerated program in partnership with Cleveland Clinic, the Transformative Care Continuum, through which a select group of students through which they are matched to their residency program before starting medical school. Do accelerated programs work?

They absolutely work. Having a student already pre-accepted into residency is powerful because it takes away that anxiety of, ‘Will I be able to get into a residency program? What’s my future like?’ It takes that away so you can better focus on our studies. And second, because these programs get you into the hospital earlier and seeing patients earlier, you can better connect the information you’re learning to something practical. You have a reason why learning about COPD is so important because you just saw a patient with it. When you can give it context, it’s much more powerful and motivating to want to learn that information as opposed to sitting with a book every day and saying, ‘Why do I even need to know this?’ Well, you just saw a patient with it last week, and that’s why you need to know. So, I’m a big proponent of accelerated programs.

What’s your take on the future of osteopathic medicine?

I think the future is exciting and bright because we need to train more physicians. And we need to do it quickly because there are areas of the United States where they don’t have quality access to physicians. Osteopathic physicians can reach those people and can take care of the entire family. You can do an entire community a mega service to help them achieve the healthy, happy lifestyle that everyone deserves to live. I’m a big proponent of osteopathic medicine, and I think the world is our oyster.

From astronauts to elders, Brian Clark studies how we stay strong


Brian Clark, Ph.D., came to our medical school in 2006 as an assistant professor of physiology and neuroscience, fresh out of graduate school at Syracuse University. He admits now that he arrived expecting to quickly migrate somewhere else.

“I always joke that when I came to Athens, I did not anticipate staying very long,” says Clark. Rather than moving on, however, he has risen to be a full professor, executive director of the Ohio Musculoskeletal & Neurological Institute, holder of the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation Harold E. Clybourne, D.O., Endowed Research Chair and an internationally recognized authority on healthy aging.

It wasn’t that Ohio University and Athens didn’t suit Clark’s younger self; he just feared that he couldn’t find enough volunteers in a small rural community for the kinds of clinical research studies he wanted to do. Instead, he recalls, “I was just flabbergasted by what strong support members of the local community give to research projects.”

Over the years, he has become friends with many of the people who have volunteered for his aging-related research studies. One reason is probably the deep commitment to the safety and comfort of study subjects that’s instilled in OMNI staff at all levels.

“My philosophy has always been, when somebody is volunteering for a study, the key word is ‘volunteering,’” Clark says. “So we do everything in our power to make it a positive experience.”

When Clark started at the Heritage College, his research focused on the effects and causes of muscle fatigue and the effect of prolonged disuse on muscles. Because astronauts on prolonged space flights can suffer such effects, NASA was an important funding source for his early work.

While Clark had long had an interest in aging as a health issue, his research wasn’t focused in this area until NASA moved away from supporting investigator-initiated muscle-disuse studies shortly after his arrival at the medical school. This prompted Clark to look for a field of research in which his expertise could come into play and which could attract support from the National Institutes of Health. Healthy aging fit the bill.

As the percentage of seniors in the U.S. population has grown, NIH has sought ways to help keep the elderly mobile, self-sufficient and out of nursing homes. And the phenomenon of muscle pain and wasting through disuse, which Clark had already been studying, in some ways parallels what happens to our muscles as we age. “It’s actually a model of aging to some extent,” he explains. He took to the new research agenda enthusiastically – and quickly caused something of a shake-up in the field.

At that time, most scientists who studied aging believed they should look primarily at the muscles themselves to understand loss of muscle strength and function in the elderly. Though research dating from the 1970s and ’80s had shown that the nervous system “is a very heavy contributor to muscle function,” Clark says, the aging research community still “basically saw the muscles as the prime culprit in muscle function losses.”

Clark – who maintained that the neuromusculoskeletal system was a better, more holistic subject for research – took a deliberate step toward refuting the consensus view when he and colleague Todd Manini from the University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, published a paper in the Journal of Gerontology, which they intended as something of a shot across orthodoxy’s bow. “We tried to write it in a pretty provocative way,” Clark admits.

Titled “Sarcopenia ≠ Dynapenia,” the article argued that sarcopenia (age-related loss of muscle mass) and dynapenia (loss of muscle strength with aging) are two very different things, and that the first is less a cause of the second than many scientists then believed. Instead of assuming that age-related loss of muscle mass equates to loss of strength, the authors suggested, researchers should be looking at other mechanisms that might underlie dynapenia, including changes in neurological function. In other words, the brain and nervous system may be major players in the process.

The 2008 paper, and a follow-up article in 2011, have had their intended impact in shifting scientific perspective, Clark says, and since their publication have been cited more than 1,000 times. They also mapped out a research territory that Clark and OMNI have made their own, and that has helped make Clark one of the college’s top translational scientists.

The entity now known as OMNI was created in 1979, and was originally known as the Somatic Dysfunction Research Institute; from 1979 to 2008 it was under the direction of John Howell, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. Clark credits Howell’s vision for the institute’s growth with laying the groundwork for its future advancement; he also pays tribute to the foundational work of Bob Hikida, Ph.D.,distinguished professor emeritus of microanatomy; and exercise physiology and anatomy professors Fritz Hagerman, Ph.D., and Gary Dudley, Ph.D., both now deceased.

Since Clark took over as head of OMNI upon Howell’s retirement in 2008, the institute has grown into a powerhouse of research, whose two main areas of focus are pain disorders and healthy aging.

From 2014-2018, OMNI attracted close to $11.5 million in external funding – 93 percent of its total funding for the period. It’s consistently one of the best externally funded institutes at Ohio University. This support has come most heavily from NIH, but also from the state of Ohio, private industry and the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations. OMNI’s principal investigators and junior scholars published 204 peer-reviewed PubMed articles with an OHIO affiliation during this time – up 39 percent from the previous five years.

With over 110 published journal articles or book chapters to his credit, Clark’s research has illuminated the role of neurology in muscle function and assessed the effectiveness of drug and exercise interventions in helping seniors retain muscle strength and mobility. In addition to scholarly outlets, his work has caught the attention of the popular press, earning write-ups in major media outlets including the New York Times, Scientific American and The Atlantic.

When he shifted his focus into healthy aging studies, Clark says, it headed him down a path of discovery that he still finds deeply rewarding every day.

“I can easily say that the aging work is what keeps me excited, and engaged, and happy to come to work,” he says.


Learning from Cuba

Barone and Skinner in Viñales
Adam Barone, OMS-I , (left) and Daniel Skinner, assistant professor of health policy

Daniel Skinner and Adam Barone

For a week in March 2019, we were privileged to visit Cuba to learn about the nation’s health care system. Our contingent ran the health professions gambit, including people in nursing and medicine, health care administration, global health, health communication and health policy. But our mission was unified: to learn about health care in Cuba and use the experience to reflect on our situation in the United States.

While in Cuba we met with physicians (both urban and rural), diabetes and vaccine researchers, farmers, educators, medical students, HIV-AIDS patients and more. We visited medical schools, clinics, physicians’ offices, rural villages and more. We walked the streets of bustling Havana and rural Viñales. At night, we processed what we had seen and explored our thoughts – often with the sound of salsa music in the background.

Though Cubans acknowledge that their system is not perfect (and what system is?), they are proud of what they have accomplished in health care. Despite widespread poverty – compounded by a lack of resources that has been intensified by the American-led embargo – Cuba’s infant and maternal mortality and life expectancy rates are comparable to those in the United States, and lack the racial and class-based disparities that plague American health outcomes.

Cuba is deeply invested in medical education, for aspiring physicians both in Cuba and around the world. A drive through the western parts of Havana reveals a vibrant, sprawling complex of buildings immersed in vaccine and other biotechnological research. In a nation that cannot afford the high costs associated with widespread acute and chronic illness, Cuba’s focus is on prevention, from frank talk about STI prevention, to mandatory vaccines that are not part of our regular vaccine schedule in the United States – such as vaccines against tuberculosis, leptospirosis and typhoid fever – to the much-discussed treatment they are exploring for lung cancer, to genomic research that aims to prevent diseases before they arise.

Cubans emphasize the hyper-rational organization of the system’s three-level approach to health care delivery, with family physicians located in communities serving as the first point of contact (including house calls), “policlínicos” serving as a community-based second tier and hospitals serving as a last resort for cases of acute need. While Cubans are allowed to access any of these tiers at any time, most opt to utilize the system as it was intended. Few Cubans go to the hospital when they do not need to. The system incentivizes this through unfettered access and by building trust in the overall design.

A particular highlight of the trip was when we American students were afforded an hour to converse with Cuban medical students at the Victoria de Girón Institute of Basic and Preclinical Sciences.The students compared notes on their experiences. Despite significant resource differences in education systems, the students found they utilized common textbooks and study strategies. Perhaps the most important takeaway was the revelation that their lives – their aspirations, as well as challenges – were not so different. Two days later, as further evidence that friendships were in the making, the students met again, this time in an unplanned run-in at a fashionable Havana art and music center, where yet more conversation and connection took place.

Cuba has a lot to offer osteopathic medicine in particular. After all, osteopathic approaches to health care emphasize the importance of the physical exam and prevention, turning to pharmaceuticals and technologies only when necessary. In Cuba, where many drugs and expensive equipment are hard to come by, there is an opportunity to reflect on core principles and see what osteopathic principles can accomplish in a resource-poor environment. It is well known that Americans overuse medical technology and testing; in Cuba, the problem is the inverse, where the American embargo is making it hard for Cubans to get some of the medical equipment they need.

In the weeks and months to come, we plan to explore ways to strengthen connections with Ohio University and Cuba. The clinicians and researchers with whom we met emphasized their hope that we could see past diplomatic tensions and focus on mutual goals of addressing pressing health needs, such as collaborative diabetes and cancer research. Sometimes, working on common projects can serve as a kind of diplomacy in its own right. Other osteopathic colleges have found value in such connections as well. Clearly, as our experience reminded us, the future of medicine – from the training of clinicians to research – is in global connectivity.

Daniel Skinner, Ph.D., is assistant professor of health policy. He is director of Ohio University’s Comparative Health Systems – Cuba program, administered through the Global Health Initiative.  

Adam Barone, M.S., is a first-year medical student.


Behind the White Coat: A Night of Storytelling


Sami Nandyal, OMS-II

“‘But how are you really?’ This is the question that often aches in my chest, fighting to get through my lips and to the ears of my fellow medical students. And sometimes it is the question I am wishing to be asked. We spend countless hours of our life pouring information into our cortices, pushing and pushing forward, suppressing breakdowns, postponing the moment we let ourselves relax and unload ‘just until the exam,’ knowing very well that there is a mile-long line of exams following that one, waiting to be our next excuse to avoid wellness and vulnerability.

Before I make our lives sound like something to be pitied, let me open the window and let in some other, coinciding rays of reality into the room. Many of us take steps each day to pursue our own wellness, for our own sakes and for the wellness of our future patients. We are working to keep human connection at the forefront of our minds, damming back science’s tendency to see patients and people as a clump of cells and molecules with or without dysfunction. We refuse to forget the experiences, hopes, fears, joys and pains permeating the tissues around hearts. When Aiesha came to me with the idea of Behind the White Coat: A Night of Storytelling, she was moved to bring out these hidden permeations in her peers and facilitate the connections and reminders of those elements within all of us.

The people we meet in class are all incredible people, and Aiesha and I want to know the students sitting next to us every day on a more personal level. After two months of medical school, Aiesha realized she only knew facts about her peers, not stories nor characteristics about them. We want to know their fears, their flaws, what events have made them the person they are.

On February 7, the normally treatment table-filled OMM room was dimly lit; an arch of seats speckled the ground facing a central riser where a microphone stand towered. People began filing in, hushed and subdued, maybe due to full bellies from the food that lined the hallway, the calming lights, anticipation or a combination of them all. Students watched eight of their classmates share tales of loss, growth, family, love and laughter. Two students shared original poetry about how their hometowns shaped them, one student talked about the regret of not speaking up and another taught us the lessons learned from losing a grandparent to disease and the importance of cherishing life.”

Aiesha Polakampalli, OMS-I

“The night ended with a first-year student volunteering to share a story about his relationship with his grandfather and how this relationship shaped his cultural identity. Before this event, I had never spoken to this student before, even though I know I walked past him almost every day in the library, his head buried in a textbook. Now, I can walk down the hallways of Grosvenor and see this student who before was a stranger, but now a friend who I can connect with over the pain of missing a grandparent. The students who performed and attended felt that this event was a necessary breath of fresh air, a humbling reminder of who we are and why we commit ourselves to a lifetime of service.”

On this February evening, more than 70 students, faculty and staff gathered in the OMM lab on our Athens campus to participate in “Behind the White Coat,” a storytelling event organized by Aiesha and Sami. Inspired by  “The Moth” Podcast, Aiesha and Sami created this space for students to share deeply personal stories with the intent of fostering community and enhancing connections with each other. We are thankful to the Barbara Geralds Institute for Storytelling and Social Impact at the Scripps College of Communication for their generous financial support for the event.

Watch the videos at YouTube.

Behind the White Coat Spotify Playlist


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our new curriculum is all about that teamwork


It’s Monday morning, and the entire first-year class at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is meeting a new patient.

Spread out over three campuses in Ohio and connected by videoconference, more than 260 medical students—the first to be trained in the College’s innovative new Pathways to Health and Wellness Curriculum—are starting their week as they do routinely on Mondays: diving into the simulated patient case on which their learning activities for the week will build.

They’ve just finished a quiz to assess how well they’ve mastered assigned material—readings, PowerPoints, recorded lectures—assigned in preparation for this week’s topic. After taking the exam individually, they take it again in a standing eight-student cohort who collaborate on lab and learning activities, mirroring the way modern health professionals increasingly work in teams.

This week’s patient is visiting the doctor for a wellness check-up. A Heritage College faculty member assigns each group a question for the fictitious patient to answer. HCOM_004Another faculty member takes the role of the patient, answering students’ questions about diet, exercise, and more. The class is alive with interaction, as students chime in from their microphone-equipped stations. As the patient answers questions, students suggest further follow-up questions.

In the coming week, all the specialized material the students learn, from biochemistry to gross anatomy to social factors affecting health, will be woven into their understanding of this patient’s case.

Welcome to “Osteopathic Approach to Patient Care 1 – Wellness,” the only fall semester class on the first-year academic schedule. A course on acute illness follows in the second semester; the second-year curriculum will feature courses on chronic illness, then return to wellness.

The new curriculum, launched in fall 2018, represents one seamless arc, following patients through stages of sickness and healing.

The Pathways to Health and Wellness Curriculum (PHWC) demonstrates what medical training of the future looks like: training organized around detailed patient cases, delivered to and absorbed in teams, and designed to present information in a way the physician will use it. It abandons auditorium lectures for a “flipped classroom,” in which students prepare outside class for interactive, team-based exercises in the learning space. Information coming from formerly discrete disciplines has been merged into a holistic, practice-centric way, offered by faculty from disciplines relevant to the case.

“We are given cases with patients’ names, their whole history, their whole medical background,” says first-year student William Naber. “Together, we take the material we learned that week and apply it to the case. And we help each other understand things that we didn’t understand about the case. That’s why the teamwork keeps coming back in over and over.”

Jody Gerome, DO ’05, associate dean for curriculum, says the PHWC continues the long-standing Heritage College practice of putting students into health care spaces like clinics and hospitals from their early days, yet now it replicates such practice venues in the classroom.

This ensures that “the way that students are introduced to major concepts is through the lens of a patient experience,” she says. “The faculty build the content that they’re teaching together, as a team, and then deliver it as a team. Students are then working in teams to synthesize the information.”

Dr. Ken Johnson, the College’s executive dean and OHIO’s chief medical affairs officer, says the PHWC is integral to the school’s mission.

“It teaches students in a way that research has shown they learn best, and that prepares them for the new realities of health care in the 21st century,” he says. “The doctors we train in it are going to come out of medical school already proficient at working on a modern health care team—with the patient at its center.”

This story was originally published in the winter 2019 issue of Ohio Today, the magazine for OHIO alumni and friends.


The research odyssey of John Kopchick

Dr. John Kopchick poses for a portrait in his lab at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio on March 28, 2018.

“It all started with a little mouse.”

That’s how molecular biologist and standout Heritage College faculty researcher John Kopchick, Ph.D., recalls the scientific discovery that has helped shape his career; improved the lives of people suffering from acromegaly; opened new pathways for research into obesity, diabetes, cancer and aging; and earned Ohio University millions in drug royalties.

That little mouse was the surprise outcome of an experiment more than 25 years ago.

Kopchick, who came to Ohio University in 1987 as holder of the Milton and Lawrence H. Goll Eminent Scholar Endowed Professorship of Molecular and Cellular Biology in our medical college and director of the growth, diabetes and obesity section of the then-new Edison Biotechnology Institute, was working with a graduate student to modify the DNA of a laboratory mouse.

When they altered the gene for growth hormone (GH), they thought they’d produce an oversized animal. Instead, they got a dwarf mouse – one that was resistant to cancer and diabetes.

“We were expecting a really big mouse,” Kopchick recalls. “We weren’t expecting to uncover a growth hormone receptor antagonist. That was a pretty exciting day!”

What they had found was a molecule that inhibits the GH receptor gene’s action, lowering GH production. The implications are many and continue to generate new lines of research. Work Kopchick has done to build on this finding has made him one of our college’s most prestigious researchers and an internationally known expert in the field of endocrinology.

One outcome of his research was development of a drug, Somavert® (pegvisomant) used to treat humans with acromegaly, a chronic disease that causes excessive growth of organs and bones and can result in premature death. As of 2018, its technology license had yielded $97 million in royalty income to Ohio University, used to support further research and technology commercialization efforts.

Getting the discovery from lab to pharmacy was a challenge. “This molecule we m_coverdiscovered was the first large-molecule growth-hormone antagonist,” Kopchick explains. “Before that, there were several antagonists pharmaceutical companies had developed for other disorders, but they were small organic-type molecules; this is a large protein. The scientific, medical and pharmaceutical communities didn’t accept it in the beginning. So it was hard to convince investors to invest in a new company.”

For some time, Kopchick couldn’t find a company to translate his discoveries into a medication. Finally, while he was discussing the problem during a gym workout with Joe Dean, then an assistant OHIO football coach, Dean suggested Kopchick call an “old friend” – 1972 OHIO alum and former footballer Rick Hawkins, an entrepreneur in drug development. Hawkins and Kopchick formed a company to develop and test the compound that became Somavert. “That was just serendipity that we were able to do that,” he says.

That’s hardly the end of the story, as Kopchick’s work has been a fertile source of new research around growth hormone, by himself and others. These days, he pursues his investigations as head of a research team that includes Darlene Berryman, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., associate dean for research and innovation; Nick Okada, Ph.D., associate lecturer in pediatrics; and Ed List, Ph.D., senior scientist at the Edison Biotechnology Institute; as well as undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students and technicians. Given everything growth hormone does, they have no shortage of research topics.

“We know growth hormone can affect the status of cancer, so an inhibitor might be used for cancer indications,” Kopchick says. “Aging is related to growth hormone. If you have diminished growth hormone action in mice by deleting the GH receptor gene, you get this dwarf mouse that is resistant to cancer and diabetes and just happens to be the longest-lived laboratory mouse in the world. These mice have been shipped all over the world to researchers doing aging research.  Additionally, there are people who have a similar mutation, Laron Syndrome patients, who don’t get cancer or diabetes either. So if you decrease growth hormone, you can increase health, and in mice, longevity. That’s why we’re into aging research. The reason we’re also into diabetes research is that too much growth hormone will promote diabetes. Our drug lowers growth hormone. So, could it be used for diabetic patients? More research is needed for that.  Although we do different things, they’re all growth hormone-centric. We do obesity research; well, growth hormone dissolves fat, this is why we study obesity.  It’s all intertwined; we’re not studying five distinct things (growth, aging, cancer, obesity, and diabetes) that are unrelated. They’re all related, and the net that covers them all is growth hormone and its various actions.”

Kopchick’s ongoing contributions to medicine and basic science have earned him a long list of honors, both from the university and other institutions.

These include the Endocrine Society’s 2019 Laureate Award for Outstanding Innovation; the British Society for Endocrinology’s Transatlantic Medal; the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Riland Medal; the AMVETS Silver Helmet Award; distinguished alumnus awards from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences; and honorary doctoral degrees from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Aarhus University in Denmark. In 2013 he was elected president of the Growth Hormone Research Society, becoming the first basic scientist to hold this office.  And just recently, on Dec. 13, Indiana University of Pennsylvania named their College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and their new Science and Math Building after John and his wife, Char.

In 2012, he was named a distinguished professor at Ohio University, and in the same year, the Heritage College announced the creation of the John J. Kopchick, Ph.D., Osteopathic Heritage Foundation Endowed Eminent Research Chair in his name.

Kopchick says one of the best things about his job is bringing students, both graduates and undergrads, along on the research journey. “We’ve trained over 350 undergrads, and over 95 percent have gone into either medical school or graduate school,” he says. “We’re very, very proud of that.” He’s also worked with more than 30 graduate students. In honor of his love of learning and impact on translational research around the world, our college created the John J. Kopchick Distinguished Lecture earlier this year.

And as the Heritage College presses ahead with its campaign to strengthen its research focus, Kopchick’s presence on our faculty offers example, inspiration and support for the work of colleagues.


3 questions all health care providers should be asking veterans


The 20 million veterans living in the U.S. today have specific health care needs unique to their military experiences, but research has shown that many civilian physicians feel uncomfortable or inexperienced dealing with health-related exposures and risks these veterans might encounter.

To help close this gap, Todd Fredricks, D.O. (’93), an associate professor of family medicine at our medical school, and Brian Plow, an associate professor in the School of Media Arts & Studies in OHIO’s Scripps College of Communication, created a feature-length documentary, “The Veterans’ Project,” with the goal of helping health care providers better treat veterans. The film uses real stories from veterans and health care professionals to highlight the challenges many combat and service-wounded veterans face when seeking care from military, VA and civilian health care systems.

To help physicians better understand and build trust with their veteran patients, Dr. Fredricks, a U.S. Army Colonel and medical officer with the West Virginia National Guard, has identified three simple questions that health care providers should ask all patients.

Question 1

Have you ever served in the armed forces?

Question 2

Did you ever experience any wounds, illnesses or injury as a result of your service?

Question 3

Have you registered with the VA?

These closed-ended questions help health care providers understand who the veterans are within their patient population, while giving veterans who are not comfortable with in-depth conversations about their experiences an out. To hear Dr. Fredricks explain more about the importance of asking these three questions, watch this video.


“The Veterans’ Project” is a production of Media in Medicine, a collaborative project led by Fredricks and Plow that brings together visual media, the arts and medicine to create and teach through storytelling. The award-winning film was shown Nov. 10 during the inaugural Columbus Veterans Film and Arts Festival, and has also been presented at the Columbus International Film & Animation Festival, the Broadcast Education Association Festival of Media Arts and the National Communication Association Annual Conference.


Summer research experience allows student to create hope for cancer patients

Nathan reynoldsHeritage College, Cleveland, student Nathan Reynolds, OMS II, gained firsthand experience in research-driven medical care this summer through the Pediatric Oncology Education Program at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Reynolds is one of 54 students in the country selected to take part in the program, where he worked under the guidance of Melissa Hines, M.D., a researcher and practitioner in the pediatric intensive care unit. Reynolds was part of a research team evaluating diagnostic criteria for hemophagocytic lymphohistiocyosis, a disorder of the immune system that causes the body to attack itself, causing organ failure and ultimately death, if untreated. By determining which diagnostic criteria are the best predictors of the disorder, the team hopes to increase the likelihood that future patients are diagnosed correctly in early stages.

Reynolds dreamed of a career treating cancer patients even before he started medical school. And now, thanks to his summer experiences at St. Jude, he appreciates even more fully how he can translate new research findings into hope for these patients. He also encourages other Heritage College students to take advantage of research opportunities to advance the scope and quality of health care.

Reynolds delved into his summer experiences through an interview with the college.

Why is it important for you to work with cancer patients?

I’m excited about the medical advances and research in the field of hematology and oncology, and that translates directly into my motivation for wanting to treat cancer patients. In the face of a catastrophic disease, I want to treat and help guide my future patients on their cancer journey to achieve the highest quality of life with the longest duration possible.

Who is your mentor?

My mentor was Dr. Melissa Hines, and she taught me the importance of integrating research into your clinical practice, as it helps you be a more focused and better clinician. She also taught me the importance of keeping a mentor throughout and beyond medical school. The idea of having a second set of eyes to look over a paper, or to discuss a manuscript or research proposal, is important on the continuum of a career.

Aside from your experiential learning in research and clinical treatment, what have you learned through this program?

We learned about the history and mission of the hospital; the ethics of clinical trials; the pathophysiology of hematologic and solid tumor malignancies in the pediatric population; the therapies the kids are given (chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, surgery); the global mission of taking the research conducted at St. Jude and bringing it to developing countries; palliative care and hospice in the pediatric oncology population – as well as support services for the families; and St. Jude’s vaccine development and manufacturing operation.

What are the plans for publishing your team’s research findings?

We’re still about a month away from submitting the finalized manuscript, and it will be my first peer-reviewed article submission. I have one other publication, but it is a chapter in a textbook. Our project had two objectives: to evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of the HLH-2004 diagnostic criteria, and to create a novel scoring system based on readily available, non-invasive clinical and laboratory variables that can be used to predict an early diagnosis of HLH.

How has the Heritage College supported your efforts?

The Heritage College is doing a phenomenal job encouraging students to pursue research opportunities both within the institution and externally. The research process is integral to medicine, so having an environment that fosters that early on in our medical career will lead to more D.O.s being involved in research projects once we enter into our residencies and beyond.

Reynolds received a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences at Western Michigan University in 2012, before earning a master’s degree in public health from Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 2014. There, he developed skills in statistical analysis and research, which he applied through his work in the clinical trials office of the Taussig Cancer Center at Cleveland Clinic from 2015 to 2017. After working in data collection and regulation for lung, bladder and kidney cancer patients for two years, Reynolds began his medical education in 2017 at the Heritage College, Cleveland, where he recently began his second year.

The importance of breastfeeding then and now: A response to U.S. threats against Ecuador over their resolution supporting breastfeeding

Wolf_JackieJacqueline H. Wolf

For every 100 infants born in the United States in 1900, 13 died before their first birthday. More than half of the babies who died, died of diarrhea. Physicians and public health officials recognized, and widely publicized, the cause. In the late 19th– and early-20thcenturies, feeding babies cows’ milk-based infant food, what we now call “formula,” was a deadly practice. Public health posters, circulated nationwide by municipal health departments, advertised that fact. “Mother’s Milk for Mother’s Babe Cow’s Milk for Calves” implored one particularly popular poster. “To Lessen Baby Deaths Let Us Have More Mother-Fed Babies.”

The American dairy industry was largely unregulated before 1930. Milk, shipped in large, open vats, took up to 72 hours to travel in unrefrigerated railroad cars from rural dairy farmer to urban consumer. By the time the milk reached its destination, it was spoiled and greying. To whiten the milk, shippers and merchants often threw handfuls of powdered chalk, and worse, into the vats.

Beginning in the 1890s, urban newspapers heralded what they dubbed “the milk wars,” to urge states to pass legislation regulating the shipping and sale of milk. Headlines about the progress of these “wars” dominated newspapers for the next 30 years. The Chicago Tribune wrote of cows’ milk: “It is worse than fraud…[and] play[s] no small part in this colossal crime of infanticide.”

I recalled this history when news broke that the United States had threatened Ecuador with trade sanctions and the withdrawal of military aid after Ecuador sponsored what they thought was an uncontroversial resolution at the World Health Assembly to “protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.” Breastfeeding is especially important in developing countries where populations still contend with unclean water that can be life-threatening to formula-fed infants. But human milk is more than just a sanitary food – it is a living substance that contains antibodies, beneficial bacteria, oligosaccharides and countless other bioactive factors not found in formula. In all countries, breastfeeding prevents respiratory and gastro-intestinal infections among infants and lowers the incidence among older children of obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, allergic diseases and cancer. In 2016, scientists writing for the Lancet estimated that universal breastfeeding would prevent 800,000 children’s deaths and yield $300 billion in health care savings annually.

We should all be grateful that cows’ milk, and therefore cows’-milk-based formula, is safer than it was a century ago. But because human milk is essential to short- and long-term human health, infant formula should be used only when mothers are unable to breastfeed, for whatever reason. In other words, the formula industry should not be a growth industry. Rather than protect formula companies at the expense of the health and life of the world’s children, the U.S. government should join the rest of the world in a full-throated endorsement of societal supports for breastfeeding, the most effective way to ensure that every child lives a healthy, long life.

Jacqueline H. Wolf is a professor of the history of medicine in the Department of Social Medicine at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and the author of Don’t Kill Your Baby: Public Health and the Decline of Breastfeeding in the 19thand 20thCenturies and, most recently, Cesarean Section: An American History of Risk, Technology and ConsequenceThe opinions expressed in this piece are her own.

Our People: Tom Fries, Sponsor of Founding Legislation

Tom Fries Image
Tom Fries was on hand at the Ohio Statehouse in April 2016 when the Heritage College celebrated 40 years of service to the state.

How lucky I was to be asked to have a part”

Tom Fries, a Democrat from Dayton, was serving his third term in the Ohio House of Representatives when he became lead sponsor of the 1975 legislation that created what is now the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. The former Major League Baseball player served six terms in the Ohio House and was appointed to fill a vacant Ohio Senate seat in 1982. Rather than seek election to a full term in the senate, Fries retired from the legislature and founded his own consulting firm.

Favorite memory: “Walking into the renovated Grosvenor Hall with George Dunigan [now the college’s director of governmental relations].” Fries had seen the building previously: “It was still a dormitory ready to become a medical college.” After the renovation, “the cafeteria had been transformed into an anatomy lab complete with 16 cadavers in the walk-in cooler! We commoners don’t see that every day.”

On changing attitudes: “In the beginning, barriers existed among the established disciplines of medicine. I believe [the Heritage College] was the driving force in Ohio to help completely destroy the roadblocks and biases that existed. Today, osteopathic medicine is totally integrated in all disciplines of health care and has been the leader in a more holistic … approach in treatment to the patient.”

Making the grade: “I go back to the original criteria for entering students, which was, ‘Would this young man or woman be the kind of practitioner [the college] wanted to produce?’ By that I think they always wanted to graduate a doctor with personality, compassion, common sense … and of course the ability to succeed academically. But grades were not always the determining factor. And that’s the way it should always be.”

Point of pride: “Having a small part in creating such a vibrant, progressive institution that’s made a difference in millions of lives for 40 years now. Every once in a while I stop and think how lucky I was to be asked to have a part in the creation of [the Heritage College]. Not to mention the wonderful people I’ve met along the way.”

Parting thought: “Whatever you all are doin’, keep on doin’ it!”