Andrew Taylor Still
Dr. Andrew Taylor Still founded the practice of osteopathic medicine after questioning the healing practices of the late 1880s. (courtesy photo)

From its inception, osteopathic medicine has been the target of skeptics. Although a medical doctor, Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, founded it after questioning the healing practices of the late 1800s, early practitioners had to prove the value of their chosen profession. To do so, they traveled to small towns, demonstrating the benefit of their techniques, one patient at a time.

At the turn of the century, as osteopathic medicine gained growing recognition, a host of imposter schools sprang up. Before they could be shut down, the credibility of the profession had been damaged.

By the late 1930s, doctors of osteopathy were recognized as physicians with the passage of the Federal Compensation Law. In 1941, they also earned recognition in the nation’s military service, yet they were still excluded from the armed forces’ medical corps.

Twenty years later, California sought to merge its osteopathic school with its allopathic college, offering M.D. degrees to the osteopaths who agreed to convert. A year later, when the state abolished the osteopathic licensing board, about 85 percent of the state’s osteopaths made the switch.

Because the change took place with few curriculum changes and no additional training required, California’s action spearheaded a nationwide move for full licensure. By 1973, two years after Montana gave osteopaths full practice rights, all 50 states had granted them the same.

Internationally, however, they can still face a struggle. According to an article in the Princeton Review, the doctor of osteopathy degree is not always understood or recognized in some countries. And because they are a minority, even in the United States, osteopaths still sometimes find themselves having to defend their training.

Ironically, osteopaths were not always uncommon in the Montana.

Dr. Don Grewell, a D.O. at Billings Clinic West, said his father, whose family farmed near Joliet, suffered from a musculoskeletal problem that was alleviated by a D.O. The senior Grewell was so impressed that he went on to become a D.O. himself. He practiced in Harlowton and later Billings until his practice was abruptly curtailed in the 1940s when Montana reinterpreted a law governing their practice. The change resulted in restricting the state’s osteopaths to manipulative treatment only. The senior Grewell spent years lobbying the Legislature to reverse the ban.

Although osteopaths have shared equal status for three decades now, that’s not to say an unspoken bias doesn’t exist. Only 10 years ago, when Scott Sample applied for a position at a Colorado hospital, he was rejected, based on the initials after his name.

“Since then, they’ve changed that policy,” he said.

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