Lakewood Ranch doctor of osteopathic medicine Thomas Quinn, D.O., had a chance meeting with an executive of television station WEDU a few years ago, which, ultimately, could change our perceptions of how women got their start in medicine in the United States.
“Do you think you would be interested in doing a documentary surrounding my new book?” Quinn asked, handing the executive, whose Tampa station is part of the Public Broadcasting Service, a copy of “The Feminine Touch: Women in Osteopathic Medicine.” “It’s about the history and struggles of women to gain equality in medicine.”
I think women by nature are more nurturing. If you go back and look throughout history, the caretakers who take care of the sick are usually women. Having the male dominance of the medical profession is something relatively modern.
Thomas Quinn, clinical professor, Doctor of Osteopathy, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine
A few days later, a surprised Quinn, who has been a clinical professor of osteopathic medicine at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Lakewood Ranch, commonly known as LECOM, since the day the school opened in 2004, got an urgent return call from PBS of which he only recalls the word, “Yes.”
“I was really surprised and thrilled that they actually did it,” said Quinn, a Philadelphia native, who was filmed for the project.
“This is the first documentary ever made about the osteopathic medical profession,” Quinn added. “Many people go to osteopathic physicians, who are called DOs, and have no idea they are not MDs. We are hoping that this will clear that up.”
WEDU’s one-hour documentary, bearing the same name as Dr. Quinn’s book, has its world premiere at 9 p.m. April 20 on PBS (Channel 3).
The documentary also has two encore performances on April 23 and April 26.
Beginning in early August, the documentary will be distributed to all PBS stations nationally, Quinn said.
Quinn’s book, besides offering readers a thorough history of women in osteopathic medicine, postulates that the early women osteopaths blazed the trail for women in traditional medicine as well and that women doctors in general have proven that they have a special touch in healing.
Last week, Jack Conely, vice president of content for WEDU, said that not only did WEDU find “The Feminine Touch” historically significant because of the role that osteopathy played in the history of women in medicine, but that he, himself, didn’t really fully understand what osteopathy was all about until he read the book.
He figures many others have, as Quinn suggests, a knowledge vacuum about osteopathic medicine.
“I had no experience with osteopathic medicine,” Conely said. “Come to learn even looking at my own health insurance that a lot of our doctors are DOs.”
What is osteopathic medicine?
Osteopathic physicians are fully trained physicians who use medicine, surgery and manipulation to treat their patients, Quinn said.
“We use medicine and surgery the same as the MDs,” Quinn said. “In addition to that we also use manipulation. We also treat the whole person, not just the disease.”
To make the documentary, Kristine Kelly, a WEDU senior producer, traveled with videographer Danny Bruno to The Museum of Osteopathic Medicine and the American School of Osteopathy, the first school of osteopathic medicine in America, in Kirksville, Mo. The school was founded by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still in the early 1890s.
The WEDU team got to film myriad artifacts and photographs and interview museum experts, Conely said.
“The documentary shows that Dr. Still provided an entree for women to participate as equals and that early opening allowed the progress to where we are today,” Conely said.
The ‘Feminine Touch’
“Dr. Still believed that women had a special quality, a gentleness of touch, which he recognized as, ‘The Feminine Touch,’ ” Quinn wrote in his book. “This made women natural healers. For this reason, he opened wide the doors of osteopathy to women.”
Researchers from the Harvard University Chan School of Public Health found that female physicians tending to hospitalized patients older than age 65 had fewer patients die under their care, and fewer patients return to the hospital after 30 days than their male colleagues. The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
“I think women by nature are more nurturing,” Quinn said last week in his LECOM office. “If you go back and look throughout history, the caretakers who take care of the sick are usually women. Having the male dominance of the medical profession is something relatively modern.”
The eureka moment for Quinn regarding women osteopathic doctors and their role in history began more than six years ago on a trip he took with several of his students to The Museum of Osteopathic Medicine and the American School of Osteopathy in Missouri.
Quinn noticed that pictures in the hallways of the American School of Osteopathy showing students from the first classes contained 50 to 60 percent women students.
“So, I started looking into it,” Quinn said. “The first osteopathic school was the very first medical school in the United States to fully accept women on an equal basis with men.”
“I think the founder, Dr. Still, was the difference,” Quinn added. “His mother was a pioneering woman in the early 1800s, and his wife and sister were pioneer women and he just fully respected the ability to women to function the same as men. And when he opened up his school, he had absolutely no doubts that he wanted to take women as well as men.”
Quinn believes that the first osteopathic women students like Jeanette “Nettie” Hubbard Bolles, founder of the Bolles Institute of Osteopathy in 1897, were trailblazers for all women in medicine.
“The early part of the profession of osteopathy really opened the doors for women,” Quinn said. “That is something that has sort of been forgotten. Prior to our first osteopathic school there were a few all female schools and there were a few of the regular male schools that would accept a token woman here or there but the majority of medical schools were completely male. Andrew Taylor Still was the first one to fully open it up. He just didn’t take in a token number of women. He chose candidates on a completely equal basis with men.”
Although no one in the public has seen the PBS documentary yet, Dr. Quinn has already gained a reputation with LECOM women students who appreciate that he has put a spotlight on women in medicine.
“Women, by nature, are a little more sensitive and more attentive to details,” said first year LECOM medical student Jean Jagiello. “Which is not to say men aren’t or can’t be.”
“Females are sometimes reluctant to talk about their female problems to a male doctor,” said first-year medical student Jennifer Lee. “Having more female osteopathic physicians means maybe more women will be willing to go to the doctor and talk about their problems.”
The book, “Feminine Touch: Women in Osteopathic Medicine,” is available for $34.99 on Amazon.com or through its publisher, Truman State University Press.
If you watch:
- What: Broadcasts of new PBS documentary “The Feminine Touch: Women in Osteopathic Medicine”
- When: Premiere 9 p.m. April 20 on WEDU, Channel 3; encore performances 2 p.m. April 23 and 1 p.m., April 26 on WEDU, Channel 3