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Graduate Medical Education

When Leadership Lights a Fire: Making a Difference for Others

February 17, 2022

 

Dimitri Tito, DO, is a second-year internal medicine resident at the Western Michigan University MD School of Medicine, a U.S. Army Captain and the chair of AACOM’s Assembly of Osteopathic Graduate Medical Educators Residents and Fellows Council (RFC).

Dr. Tito spoke with the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) about his path to osteopathic medicine, his experience in a graduate medical education program with Osteopathic Recognition and his inspiring passion for leadership and service.

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The answers below have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: How did you learn about osteopathic medicine and what inspired you to become an osteopathic physician?

Dr. Tito: My passion for medicine started when I was back in Cameroon. I grew up in a small town and we had limited access to medical resources. A lot of the medical care was provided by international physicians who would come in for medical missions. That was my first exposure to medicine. When I came to the United States, I didn't know anyone. I had no friends and no family members. The first osteopathic physician I met was one of my new friends’ dads. I asked if I could shadow him, and he said yes. That's how I got started with my osteopathic adventure. I was lucky enough that my friend's dad was receptive. He showed me around his office and the different techniques he was using—the muscle energy techniques, the counter strain, he even showed me some procedures, such as trigger point injections. That's how I fell in love with osteopathic medicine. Of course, I did not know how to apply to medical school, it was my first time going through the application process, so he helped me with the recommendation letters and everything I needed to do to get in. I applied to DO schools and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) granted me my first interview and first acceptance. They holistically looked at my application during the interview, I mean, they knew my weaknesses, they knew my strengths, they knew my struggles and even more importantly they knew the fact that osteopathic medicine closely aligned with my love for rural medicine. I did not hesitate to say yes when they offered me a chance to come to their school.

Q: What has it been like to conduct your internal medicine residency training at a program with Osteopathic Recognition?

Dr Tito: Oh, it's incredible! It's more than just my commitment to osteopathic education. Osteopathic Recognition allows me to focus on high quality, patient-centered care as well as cost effective medicine. In our program, Osteopathic Recognition provides me with an additional tool to diagnose and evaluate musculoskeletal injuries. I can continue to learn and perfect osteopathic manipulative techniques and use them to achieve a high level of wellness for my patients. Osteopathic Recognition also emphasizes patient-centered communication along with the holistic approach to medicine. As internal and family medicine doctors, those are key aspects in our practice.

Q: What attracted you to military medicine?

Dr. Tito: When I moved to the United States from Cameroon, I was only 15 years old. My parents pictured the United States as a land of opportunities where all their children could succeed. My childhood experience really opened my eyes and gave me a deep respect for life, and this country has given me so many opportunities. To give back, I decided to join the military. It's more than just becoming a medical officer. I aspire to become a physician leader. In the Army, we have the chance to lead from the front. We create an environment that promotes teamwork with the soldiers and more importantly, we practice medicine in the Army with the most advanced technologies. I’m proud to say that I'm the first person in my family to become an officer in the U.S. Army.

Q: As chair of the Residents and Fellows Council, why should others consider joining the RFC?

Dr. Tito: I truly believe that the future of our osteopathic profession belongs in the RFC. The RFC provides residents and fellows the chance to get involved in educational activities, networking opportunities, mentorship and even resources to excel as a well-rounded physician. Others should definitely join because they can learn about critical issues to our osteopathic profession and gain access to resources to implement solutions and effect change.

Q: In addition to your studies, training and leadership responsibilities, you’ve also authored a book about leaving your home country of Cameroon to advance rural heath in West Virginia. What inspired this book and why is rural health important to you?

Dr. Tito: One day back in medical school, at WVSOM, I had a meeting with my mentor who asked me why I was so passionate about rural health. When I told her, she replied, “Dimitri, you should write a book!” I decided to write it when I realized that an emotional and inspiring story about serving the undeserved should be told. It's not about overcoming challenges or diving deep into personal struggles, even though those are good stories to tell, and they make great books, but many others have already told those stories. My story is a simple one. It's about hope and wanting to serve and how anyone, no matter where they come from, no matter how humble their beginnings, can grow into someone they desire to be. In my case, I remember where I came from, and my book is the story of giving and loving and inspiring and helping and making life about others. That's what we did in West Virginia. We started a small community program and we provided free health screening services and health education to underserved communities and that little, tiny spark was nurtured into a great flame and became a non-profit organization.

Q: You’ve also published research on a community medical leadership workshop you developed. What makes you passionate about resident physician leadership, and what are a few things residents can do to become stronger leaders?

Dr. Tito: I used to think that a physician would choose whether or not to become a leader, but that's not the case. I truly believe that physicians evolve from caring for their patients to becoming leaders and advocates in their local communities. In residency programs, a lot of residents want to be physician leaders, but they're not prepared to face the challenges. They just don't know how they should get into the leadership track. They have limited resources. So, we developed and implemented a community medical leadership program that prepares residents to become more effective physician leaders. We published projects and papers it’s been very successful. For anyone interested in developing their own leadership, first, show up. That's what I was told when I started this journey. My mentors told me to show up to meetings and networking events, to make my voice heard and to join physician groups and medical school alumni and social networks. Second, find an area of medicine that you are passionate about—it could be leadership, it could be women's health, it could be wellness, it could be health policy—and become an advocate for it. And lastly, join the RFC!

Q: From your perspective as a Black medical resident and leader, what more could colleges of osteopathic medicine and residency programs do to promote diversity, equity and inclusion?

Dr. Tito: It starts with creating a survey of the residents and faculty in the program and identifying current issues that are related to diversity and inclusion. The next step will be exploring these topics with an established group of residents, fellows and faculty, bringing everyone to the table to discuss. Then I would emphasize actively looking and uncovering microaggressions and subsequently requiring mandatory education for unacceptable behaviors. I would encourage institutions to adapt the more practical in-person training instead of just online modules. Lastly, there's a lot of underrepresentation in the workforce, especially discrimination towards hiring minority faculty members. We need more Black academic physicians, so establishing a task force to increase this representation would be helpful too.

Q: Do you hope to stay engaged with academic medicine during the next phase of your career and what more do you hope to accomplish as an osteopathic physician after you complete your residency training?

Dr. Tito: I hope to continue in academic osteopathic medicine. In fact, I'll be applying for AACOM’s Osteopathic Health Policy Fellowship next year. I hope to become a clinical and educational expert in medical leadership and rural health, so that's my plan.