Breaking Down Barriers for Osteopathic Medicine Abroad

By Thomas N. Told, DO, FACOFP dist., Dean of RVUCOM

Moyer Delwyn Thomas

From a young age, I developed a keen interest in the United Kingdom’s education system, especially after I learned that my grandfather, Moyer Delwyn Thomas[1], had graduated as a Rhodes Scholar from Lincoln College in England. Aware of his reputation as a speed demon –  perhaps influenced by his background as a former ambulance driver in World War I – I asked my mother why he had received the honor of a “Roads Scholar”. In a proud yet respectful tone, my mother said that training in England was an honor that only a few American scholars had experienced. I soon began to wonder if I could follow in my grandfather’s footsteps; he was a renowned chemist and inventor of one of the earliest air pollution detection devices, the Thomas Autometer[2]. Alas, I did not inherit my grandfather’s academic genes or his passion and natural ability for the chemical sciences. I have, however, remained an anglophile through the years, regardless of the UK healthcare system’s views on osteopathic medicine.

Physicians from the UK have been closely linked to osteopathic medicine and its founder, osteopathic physician and surgeon A.T. Still, since the profession’s establishment in the mid-1800s. I firmly believe that if William Smith, MD, a Scottish physician, had not convinced Dr. Still that osteopathic physicians were just as qualified as their allopathic counterparts, osteopathic medicine would be a footnote in American medical history. Our curriculum would not have been recognized or validated had it not been for British immigrant John Martin Littlejohn and his persistence in including the study of physiology and other basic sciences in the first osteopathic school. Unfortunately, Littlejohn was unable to gain full recognition for osteopathic medicine in England equal to that in the United States. After that failure, we as a profession resigned ourselves to the fact that our British physician colleagues would never fully embrace our unique brand of practicing medicine.

A.T. Still, DO, MD, and Martin Littlejohn, DO, MD, PhD. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Osteopathic Medicine

Fast-forward to early spring of 2018. I received communications from Adrienne White-Faines, MPA, CEO of the American Osteopathic Association, informing me of an opportunity for RVUCOM to gain registration, or licensure, as a fully qualified foreign medical school in England. RVUCOM had been registered with the World Directory of Medical Schools upon its founding, but that alone had not opened any international doors. To receive recognition from England was a historic development, and a successful partnership would serve as a springboard to the other Commonwealths. 

I promptly formed a work group, spearheaded by Linda Cairns, Special Assistant to the Associate Dean for Integrated Curriculum, and supported by Michele Sobczyk, then-Executive Assistant to the Dean. Over several weeks, we all worked to complete the very extensive and exacting application process. We submitted scores of documents and legions of data points to the General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK, an organization that oversees the medical education of students and residents, as well as the registration/licensure of all physicians both foreign and domestic. Even after acceptance by the GMC, they warned us that requirements change regularly with little notice, so we must remain vigilant and keep our standards high.

University of Edinburgh Medical School
located in Edinburgh, Scotland

An institution that is registered with the GMC would open the door to RVUCOM students, residents, and graduates to be admitted to the country for training or to start a practice without any additional individualized scrutiny as to the quality of their education. The additional scrutiny can be a tedious process, and is frequently a disqualifying factor. RVUCOM alumni who wish to practice in the UK will also have to sit for the Professional and Linguistics Assessment Board (PLAB) examination to verify their competency with language and medical skills.

So what prompted this historic decision? Our students and residents in both the allopathic and osteopathic professions advocated for and were the driving force for the single accreditation system for licensure that was recently announced by the American Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). A validation such as this from ACGME was a signal to the world that osteopathic medicine was of the same quality as traditional medicine. This did more to reverse prejudice towards our profession than all the diplomacy of the past century. For this year, we can truly say that we witnessed medical history as RVUCOM and osteopathic medicine took a step toward lengthening their global reach. And who knows? There may even be some future Rhodes Scholars in the RVUCOM community because of it.

[1] In addition to being a Rhodes Scholar, Moyer Delwyn Thomas completed several degrees including a doctorate in in chemistry from Oxford University, and held several degrees from the University of Utah. After his tenue at Oxford in the early 1910s, Thomas volunteered for the American Ambulance Volunteer Corps in France during World War I. He further participated in the war effort by returning to Oxford and working on formaldehyde in a chemical warfare laboratory. After returning home from England in the early 1920s, Thomas filled the position of Associate Professor of Agronomy at Utah State University, which included his role as a soil chemist in its Logan Experiment Station. During WWII, Thomas served as a consultant to the National Defense Research Committee. He also served as a consultant to the Atomic Energy Commission from 1948 to 1958, and as a senior research scientist for the Stanford Research Institute. For a large period of his working career, Thomas worked as a chemist and agronomist for American Smelting and Refining Company in Salt Lake City. Provided by Archives West.

[2] Moyer Delwyn Thomas is perhaps best known for his development of the Thomas Autometer, a device that measures the concentration of gases, specifically sulfur dioxide, associated with air pollution. For his instrument development, he was awarded the Frank A. Chambers Award in 1955 from the Air Pollution Control Association. Furthermore, he authored many papers and books on such subjects as soil structure and alkali, air pollution, plant nutrition, photosynthesis, and radioactive traces. Provided by Archives West.

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