Inaugural Address - APRIL 30, 2016
Gabriel M. Pitman, DO, 2016-2017 OOA President
"I would like to thank the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association for this great honor. I would like to think my wife Christa, my daughter Gracie and my sons Jack and McCormick for their steadfast support and unconditional love. I would also like to thank my mother and father and brothers and sisters that is here today to support me. Thank you to all my friends that have traveled to attend this inauguration. It means the world to me to have you all here. I would like to thank my office staff, many of whom have been with me from the start and continue to help me care for my patients.
In the fall of 2005, my grandfather, John Pitman, was having back problems. Everybody called him Big Daddy. He was a bigger-than-life person. He was a 6-foot-5 broad-shouldered Texan. He talked with kind of a slow drawl, and reminded everybody of John Wayne. At his birthday party in November of 2005, we noticed that he could barely move around. I asked him to come into my clinic on Monday, and he did. I had him undress and came into the room and noticed how cachectic he looked. He had lost so much weight and muscle. His main complaint was back pain and so I sent him for CT scans of his spine. He brought back the CT scans to the clinic after they were done. At the same time the radiologist called and told me that they saw three large tumors in the thoracic spine and some tumors in his liver. Feeling pretty helpless, I called my family and my brother, Luke, drove over to the clinic really fast. We went into my office where Bigdaddy was waiting and told him that he had a cancer and it looked really bad. He looked up at me and said “I’m OK with that”. And I said “Well, I’m not.” He was so brave and humble and never scared. He told us that he had had a good run and that he was ready for his next great adventure. During the last month of his life, when he was dying with metastatic melanoma.he made it so easy for everybody. The patriarch of our family taught all of us how to die with dignity and grace. He said “I have always wondered how I would die. I'm so glad I have cancer so I can have time to say goodbye to everyone. My three brothers and my dad were all with him when he passed over. It was really a special moment.
In the following months I became very resentful that I was the one that had to diagnose my hero with this problem and I became depressed about it. In early 2006, I got a call from Leroy Young asking me to go on the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association Board of Trustees. I was a bit taken aback. I was just a couple of years into my practice and I didn’t feel like I had the experience needed for the job. So I hung up with Leroy and, right away, Tom Carlile called me. So they worked on me and I agreed to come on the Board. In early 2006, I filled a vacancy on the Board. Over the next month of serving of the board with other osteopathic physicians in the state and learning from mentors how to serve the profession, I became grateful that I was the one that had the privilege diagnosing my grandfather and tell him the news. It changed my way of thinking, giving service back to the profession. I learned the value of being an osteopathic physician by serving the profession, and I am very grateful for that.
Being on the board has helped me probably more than I have helped anyone else. You know, the OOA has a rich history. One of the things I'm in our Boardroom is the pictures of all of the osteopathic physicians that served in the Presidency. Did you know that many of the first presidents of the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association were women DOs. This was in the early 20th century. There was an early emphasis in our profession to break down barriers and teach women to become osteopathic physicians. I am very proud of this part of our legacy.
I have learned a lot about the history of osteopathic medicine in our Oklahoma The early DOs in our state mostly came out of Kirksville, Missouri at that time, where Dr. Andrew Taylor Still had started his medical school. As time went by, many other DOs came to Oklahoma out of the Kansas City school and others. Meantime, DOs were not allowed to serve as physicians in World War II by the Army Medical Corps. The served as soldiers instead. We had problems getting privileges at local hospitals, and so we opened our own osteopathic hospitals in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Enid, and a number of other rural towns. In the Vietnam War, the Army Medical Corps allowed DOs to serve as physicians. These DOs returning from Vietnam as army officers began to break through many of the barriers for us in the medical community and starting to achieve equal footing and gaining hospital privileges and equal standing with our M.D. peers that continued to grow and that we enjoy today.
Meanwhile, the osteopathic profession wanted to start our own medical school in Oklahoma. Working through the political process, the Oklahoma College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery was established in Tulsa in the late 1970s with state funding. During the oil bust in the early 1980s, the state government saw that our school was a line item in the budget that they could cut and they threatened to close the school. Some in state leadership even stated that Oklahoma really only needed one state-funded medical school. The osteopathic profession and the medical school partnered with OSU to take the school to new heights, and with this partnership, our osteopathic medical school has become nationally recognized.
In 2008, at a monthly board meeting a representative from Ardent called in representative told us they were going to close OSU Center for Health Sciences Hospital in Tulsa. Ardent owned the hospital. He reported if they could not sell the school, they were going to close it. Tulsa at that time was the largest urban area in the country without a state-funded hospital. The osteopathic profession and OSU again came together to save the hospital. After that meeting, Lynette McLain, who was our Executive Director, and I called over to the Capitol and we went to meet with Senator Glenn Coffey, who at that time was the Speaker pro tempore of the Senate. Initially, the state told us that they did not want to get into hospital business. A coalition was formed that ended up funding and saving the hospital. Eventually the osteopathic profession and Oklahoma State University continued to work, and now the hospital is funded yearly in our state budget. This allowed the teaching hospital in Tulsa to continue to care for the less fortunate and to train our students and residents. This is one of my favorite achievements.
Over the years, we have had many victories at the Capitol. I have learned so much from our lobbyists Gary Bastin and Mark Snyder, whom I count as close friends. A few years ago, the pharmacists in the state wanted to be able to prescribe medicines, change medications, change dosages of medications, and perform physical examination. We worked hard to stop that, because we don’t think that is safe for our patients. This is an example of some of the challenges the OOA deals with and we have had great success. I'm humbled that when we reach out to our members to contact their representatives on these legislative issues we get such a great response. The osteopathic family in Oklahoma will continue to work together to achieve mission.
As you may know, the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association’s mission is to advocate for the osteopathic profession, and to promote the health and wellbeing of all Oklahomans. Our Board keeps this in mind whenever challenges arise – “Are we doing what’s right for our patients?”
The Oklahoma Osteopathic Association stands behind our members. I want you all to visualize a time in your life when things were hard – you were tired or in pain or grieving – and I want you to think about your heroes standing behind you. Your parents or your mentors, your teachers, your friends, and think about them standing behind you and cheering for you during those hard times. If you could envision how good that would feel if, during those hard times, those folks were cheering for you. That is what I see as one of the missions of the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association – to stand behind our members as they go through the challenges of navigating this changing health care climate. We are there to lend support to help to achieve the ideals of osteopathic medicine. I have thought about over the last few days when I have been nervous about this speech those that have passed on that those that are still here standing behind me, cheering for me.
I have met so many outstanding people by serving on the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association Board of Trustees. One of my goals for my Presidency is to be present and be available for our members during these changing times in healthcare. To show them that our Association is cheering for them. When they are tired or overworked or having problems getting paid by the payers for the work that they are doing, or when they are muddling through all of the regulations that make it harder to practice medicine, dealing with challenges that are time-consuming and not scientifically proven. I am so proud that our state has passed a law this session that maintenance of certification will not ever be a requirement for licensure or hospital privileges. Because this law was signed, hospitals cannot technically ask any more if you are participating in maintenance of certification. What a blessing that there is one less thing that is making it harder for us to do our job, and we worked hard for that.
As challenges arise, I want our Association members and our patients to know that the collective consciousness of our Board of Trustees will do the right thing to help when challenges arise. We’ve got a great Board and the legacy is sound and will continue to meet challenges and overcome them and come out the better for them as a profession in the state of Oklahoma. One of the challenges that we are dealing with right now is the closure of rural residencies due to the expensive regulations set upon us by the ACGME. I want you all to know that many of the members of the Oklahoma delegation to the House of Delegates of the American Osteopathic Association had concerns about the merger with ACGME and wanted to preserve our osteopathic heritage and to preserve our ability to continue to have community-based residencies. Now we are seeing closures of these residencies. We are going to come together to figure out a way to keep these residencies open and keep slots open for our medical school graduates, despite the decision to merge with the ACGME. These are not challenges that cannot be overcome.
I want to thank all of the people that have helped me and I want you all to know that the Association is strong and is in good hands, and we will continue to fight for the osteopathic profession and our patients. Thank you so much for this great honor. I will hold this responsibility close to my heart and apply all the efforts that are needed to help the Association succeed.
I am so blessed to be an osteopathic physician. Andrew Taylor Still wrote in his autobiography “The body itself may recover from displacements, disorganizations, derangements, and consequent disease and regain its normal equilibrium of form and function in health and strength.” Although he was talking about the human body, I think it is a good life lesson that we can recovery from all sorts of displacements, disorganizations, derangements, and disease in our life and regain normal equilibrium of form and function in health and strength. Whether it is threats to our ability to provide care or threats of unnecessary regulation or extra work, threats to our philosophy, threats to our ability to teach, none of these are insurmountable. We will continue to achieve as an osteopathic family in Oklahoma and not allow any diversion from our goals.
Thank you all once again and I am humbled by your trust in me."