PCOM South Georgia: Understanding the Whole Person Approach

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Whole person approach—it’s a word that’s been said time and time again since the opening of PCOM South Georgia in Moultrie.

PCOM South Georgia educates and trains students to become Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), fully licensed physicians who examine and treat patients, prescribe medication and practice in a wide variety of specialties such as family medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, radiology or surgery. The options are numerous, and that future is being trained right here in South Georgia.

Words like whole person and hands-on are often used to describe osteopathic medicine, and it’s something that’s clear to see when a patient visits a DO for treatment. Patients receive the same level of care as they would with any other physician, but osteopathic physicians are trained to have an extra skill set. They fully see their patients, meeting them with empathy and care. This kind

of physician is especially beneficial to rural areas as they are trained to focus on the whole person, which means looking at the lifestyle, diet and mental health of their patients. In addition, DOs are trained in osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), which are techniques that allow them to use their hands to diagnose injury and illness and encourage the body’s natural tendency toward good health. Using OMT, an osteopathic physician learns to move a patient’s muscles and joints using techniques that include stretching, gentle pressure and resistance—that’s the DO difference.

Kristie Petree, DO ‘13, osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) site director at PCOM South Georgia, practices OMT as support for patients with problems from headaches to congestive heart failure.

“If a patient comes in with congestive heart failure, that means fluid has backed up in the system,” Dr. Petree said. “The common treatment is diuretics, often referred to as water pills. Osteopathic physicians can prescribe that, but in addition to medicine, we help the body move the fluid on its own. For example, manually mobilizing the patient’s lower extremities helps to circulate fluid better.”

Dr. Kristi Petree

To Dr. Petree, the whole person approach is simple: Don’t put systems in a box. The systems of the body are all interrelated and affect one another. While a physician may prescribe heart medicine to fix a heart problem, that medicine could negatively affect the kidneys. Osteopathic physicians are trained to be doctors first and specialists second.

“When a patient presents with cellulitis, an infection in the leg, physicians often prescribe antibiotics,” Dr. Petree said. “If the infection comes back, it is our job to step back and find out why it’s coming back. It could be poor lymphatic drainage, reduced blood supply, or a number of other things. We look at the whole body to find out what is causing the issue.”

It’s this approach to patient care that is encouraging students to pursue an education in osteopathic medicine. Over the past decade, the profession has experienced a 68 percent increase in the total number of osteopathic physicians, and there are more than 1,000 licensed DOs within a 250-mile radius of PCOM South Georgia.

“We listen to our patients. We hear their story and work with the patient as a team with the common goal of good health. Instead of focusing on symptoms, we search for the cause of the illness by looking at the whole patient.”

And that is the whole person approach that’s being taught right here in South Georgia.

Photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic

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