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News & Press: History of the Osteopathic Profession

Al Turner, DO - History of the Osteopathic Profession

Monday, September 30, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Stiger, DO
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Al Turner, DO
July 1944-

All osteopathic physicians receive instruction in osteopathic manipulation (OMM) as part of their training curriculum.  In earlier times this skill was the primary tool that was used by the DO.   Today, because of time constraints, poor reimbursement by third parties, the average DO rarely uses OMM relying on "medical treatments” for the preponderance of their patients.  This is the story of a DO who started his practice as a primary care physician using mostly medical treatments and over time evolving to become a true osteopathic physician whose philosophy is very close to the original precepts taught by A.T. Still.

Al was born in Monett, Missouri. He was the youngest son of a railway clerk who invented the ZIP code system used by the U.S. Postal system. His mother was primarily a homemaker and a devout Free Methodist. Her fondest wish was for one of her children to by a missionary and since Al was the youngest, he was elected.  At age eight Al and his family moved to Kansas where he attended a small high school and excelled in academics and sports.  His six foot four inch frame was perfect for basketball.  He was on the honor roll, the class play, and student government.  He continued to be active in the local Free Methodist Church as well.  After graduating from high school in 1962 he enrolled into the Central College in McPherson, Kansas and after two years transferred to Spring Arbor College graduating in 1967. He entered a seminary with the aim in mind to sharpen his ministerial skills while the curriculum of the school was actually designed to give students the concepts of ministry. After a quarter he left the seminary.

This was the time when the Vietnam War was in full swing and the draft was a constant threat.  With his background and religious training he was adamantly opposed to killing and applied for conscientious objector status.  After some wrangling the draft board labeled him an "objector of conscience” and required him to serve for two years as a counselor for "emotionally disturbed, socially maladjusted, delinquent juvenile males.”  It was during this period of time that Al determined that he needed more training as a teacher and counselor and after completing his time at the school enrolled in a Master’s program at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.   After graduation and the receipt of his master’s Al served as Coordinator of Religious Affairs at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

Since age five Al had always wanted to be a physician, actually a missionary doctor, but when he flunked chemistry he believed that career was forever closed to him.  Later, while working at Western Michigan he applied to the University of Michigan medical school and was advised that he was too old (at age 28) to be accepted.  A premed counselor at Western advised him that he might be better suited to be an osteopathic physician, a profession that he knew nothing about.

While at Western Michigan in 1972 Al injured his back pushing cars during a blizzard.  Because of severe back spasms he sought treatment from a local MD who Rxd pain pills and advised him to rest. For two weeks he was unable to walk upright and finally in desperation sought treatment from a local DO.  After one treatment he was able to walk upright and soon was back to his old self.  This convinced Al that osteopathic medicine was the career he must follow.  In 1974 he was accepted into the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in 1978.  While attending he was trained by some of the leading practitioners of OMM in the country. He stated the he felt that he was "being trained by the cream of the crop” all the way through his four years.   (He has written an interesting essay in which he discusses the mentors who influenced him during those years and later in practice.)  Summers, the family left Kansas and came to Oregon where they resided with an aunt while harvesting cherries and other crops to raise money for the "vacation” and school clothes.  Al fell in love with the area and determined that sometime in his life he would make it his home. When the opportunity arose for an internship at Eastmoreland Hospital in Portland he took it, graduating in 1979.

After internship Dr. Turner started his career in Salem, Oregon but for various reasons left that practice and took over the practice of Dr. Woodmansee, a DO in the Hillsboro, Oregon area.   After a time he managed to transform this practice into a success but became bored with the routine.  At an AOA convention in Chicago he was recruited by the West Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine to be the medical director at a State of West Virginia hospital and clinic in a small coal-mining town called Welch.   He quickly discovered that the staff consisted of four doctors, two medical students and two RNs.  It was his job to bring the place up to speed so that when a 120-bed replacement hospital and clinic were built the staff would be well prepared.  After one year in this gloomy, unrewarding environment he relocated to Florida where there was lots of sunshine. For the first six years he was medical director of a chain of urgent care centers.  The last six years he worked as a primary care doctor in a small clinic where he could use more and more of his OMM skills.  
In 1993 he answered an advertisement for director of the OMM Department at Eastmoreland Hospital in Portland, Oregon.  He got the job and continued in that position until the closure of the hospital in 2004.  Following this he set up a private practice, which he termed The Osteopathic Advantage Clinic, devoted exclusively to OMM in nearby Johns Landing.  He continued to practice in that location until his retirement in June 2013.

Throughout his career Dr. Turner has been involved in training future osteopathic physicians both as a lecturer and as a mentor. Initially as a graduate Teaching Fellow at Michigan State University of Osteopathic Medicine then (not in order) Adjunct Associate Clinical Professor, Osteopathic Medicine, Touro Osteopathic, Vallejo, California, Clinical Faculty Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, Clinical Professor OMM at Western University at Pomona, Associate Professor of Family Medicine West Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Lewisburg, WV, Associate professor of Osteopathic Medicine at A.T. Still , Osteopathic, Mesa, Arizona.  Clinical Associate Professor Dept. of Family Medicine, OHSU.   He also teaches a course at Portland State University on Osteopathic Medicine each year.

He has been involved in a host of community organizations too numerous to list.  Most notable was his recent election as president of the Multnomah County Medical Society.  He has also been involved in OPSO as a board member. In recognition of his many contributions to the osteopathic profession he has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions.

To the many students and residents who have had the privilege of working with Dr. Turner in his office or in the clinics by far his greatest contribution to the profession has been his ability to teach.  As a mentor he has been honored on many occasions including recognition of his contribution to the educational program at COMP Northwest given this year.

In addition to his practice and mentoring, Dr. Turner served as a volunteer minister/preacher/ missionary/medical student mentor in Peru, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico and Ireland.   His advice to those who wish to go on mission trips: "Don’t consider going unless you are prepared to have your heart broken and your life changed forever.  The bad new is that you will never again see the world through the eyes of innocence, your life will be changed forever, the good news is that the heart must be broken in order to expand.”

Dr. Turner is married with two stepchildren and eight grandchildren.  His wife Beryl, an accomplished woman in her own right is a retired math and science teacher. Her support  and advice have been very important in enabling Al to be so active and involved. Dr. Turner’s satisfying accomplishment has been to teach to ”see the lights come on in both patients and students” as they discover the "Osteopathic Advantage.”  He admits it took a long time to balance his passion for osteopathic medicine with love for his family.

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