Doctor Mike talks osteopathic medicine

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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.