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Meet Dr. Joe Gibbons, doctor of osteopathic medicine

| Date Posted: 6/16/2011

Joe Gibbons, D.O.

Joe Gibbons, D.O.

ROCKINGHAM – A patient will sometimes ask Dr. Joe Gibbons about the unusual initials that routinely follow a professional listing of his name. On those occasions, Dr. Gibbons will tell the observant individual that the letters “D.O.” mean that he is a doctor of osteopathy.

A more precise explanation of the designation and how it compares to the more familiar M.D. would require a little time, but Dr. Gibbons is happy to oblige. Fundamentally, however, there is little difference.

As with the traditional allopathic (M.D.) school, osteopathic school begins with a two-year focus on biomedical and clinical sciences and then core clinical training in clinical specialties. The difference lies in the whole-person approach to treatment and the 200 or so hours of osteopathy instruction in hands-on manipulative medicine and the musculoskeletal system of D.O. training. Otherwise, D.O.s and M.D.s have exactly the same privileges and licenses. All are qualified physicians who, once licensed, can practice the full scope of medicine that includes prescribing medications and, when appropriate, performing surgery.

“A doctor is a doctor,” says Dr. Gibbons of FirstHealth Richmond Medical Group – Internal Medicine.

Osteopathic physicians make up only 7 percent of the total U.S. physician population, and only a half-dozen – specialists in radiology, anesthesiology and hospitalist medicine, as well as Dr. Gibbons – have privileges at FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital. Another dozen – whose specialties include neurology, cardiology, radiology, hospitalist medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology – have privileges at the FirstHealth hospitals in Pinehurst and Troy.

Like M.D.s, D.O.s can choose to practice in any specialty of medicine. There are no restrictions in specialty or sub-specialty, but most choose family medicine.

“You just have to decide to go through that training,” says Dr. Gibbons, whose specialty is internal medicine.

There are also far fewer schools that educate D.O.s – 29 as compared to 134 traditional medical schools. Dr. Gibbons was trained at the country’s oldest osteopathy school and some would say its best, the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, Mo. His father is also a Kirksville College-trained D.O.

“That’s the direction I wanted to go from the beginning,” Dr. Gibbons says. “My sister and I used to go with him to the hospital. I always knew that was the place I wanted to be. I liked being in the hospital.”

All 50 American states recognize the D.O. credential and allow D.O.s the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as the M.D. Dr. Gibbons was born in Michigan and raised in Arizona, both states where D.O.s are relatively common and better known. Other states with relatively high D.O. populations include Ohio and Florida.

Once they have completed their respective medical schools, D.O.s and M.D.s work shoulder to shoulder in internship and residency programs where only the initials behind their names set them apart from one another. By that time, Dr. Gibbons points out, hospitals are eager to attract physicians with the best possible school and board scores, no matter what the credential.

“It comes down to qualifications,” he says. “They want to make sure they get the best of the best.”

Dr. Gibbons did his internship and residency at Greenville (S.C.) Memorial Hospital, a program that was attractive to him for many reasons but especially for its proximity to Atlanta and his wife’s family. Jacqueline Gibbons, a physician assistant in the Hospitalist Service program at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, was also osteopathy trained at Kirksville College.

According to osteopathic principles, the hands-on manipulation of muscles, bones and ligaments encourage natural healing powers that restore the body to health. Symptoms appear along “reflex pathways” and affect other organ systems along the same pathway – hence, the whole-body philosophy.

“There are many things involved that are going along the same pathway,” Dr. Gibbons says, “so you might treat symptoms but not really take care of the problem. We consider the body as a whole, not just a problem.”

Dr. Gibbons is trained in manipulation procedures, but does not currently incorporate the modality in his Richmond Medical Group practice.

FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital is a division of FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital.

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