What is a Whole Person Approach to Patient Care?
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Understanding the Whole Person Approach to Medicine 
PCOM South Georgia

September 2, 2020
Two medical students speak with a patient actor during a primary care exam simulation. These interactions are part of learning the whole person approach advocated by PCOM.
A PCOM South Georgia DO student performs a neck stretch on another student in the OMM lab. OMM is part of the whole person approach practiced by PCOM students.
Two PCOM South Georgia medical students use their stethoscopes to listen to the chest of a mannequin in the simulation center.
Three PCOM South Georgia students wear their white coats and smile in a campus lobby.

PCOM South Georgia trains student doctors to assess patients' diets, lifestyles and mental health in addition to symptoms. Photos were taken prior to March 2020.

Whole person approach—it’s a term 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.

What is a whole person approach to medicine?

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.

Professional headshot photo of Kristie Petree, DO '13Kristie 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.”

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.

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  • About PCOM South Georgia

    Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) extended its commitment to the Southeast by establishing PCOM South Georgia, an additional teaching location in Moultrie, Georgia. PCOM South Georgia offers both a full, four-year medical program leading to the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree and a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences degree. PCOM is a private, not-for-profit institution which trains professionals in the health and behavioral sciences fields. Joining PCOM Georgia in Suwanee in helping to meet the healthcare needs of the state, PCOM South Georgia focuses on educating physicians for the South Georgia region. The medical campus, which welcomed its inaugural class of medical students in August 2019, has received accreditation from the American Osteopathic Association's Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation. For more information, visit pcom.edu/southgeorgia or call 229-668-3110.

    For more information, contact:
    Jordan Roberts
    Public Relations and Social Media Manager
    Email: jordanro1@pcom.edu
    Office: 229-668-3198 | Cell: 229-873-2003

    Connect with PCOM South Georgia