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News & Press: History of the Osteopathic Profession

J. Scott Heatherington, DO - History of the Osteopathic Profession

Sunday, September 15, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Stiger, DO
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J. Scott Heatherington, DO

Probably the most influential DO of his generation in Oregon was J. Scott Heatherington.   His devotion to the osteopathic profession, his ability to teach, his wonderful skills as a politician were all remarkable but what distinguished him most in the minds of those who knew him and worked with him was his wonderful sense of humor.  Rarely was he ever in a situation where he couldn’t come up with a witty comment that would defuse a tense situation or make a point that otherwise might not have been acceptable.

Scott was born in the small town Woodson, Kansas.  When Scott was 9 months old his father became a minister in the United Brethren Church and was called to his first church in McCracken, Kansas population 700. There with his two brothers and older sister he began his early education and apparently his sense of humor and playful pranks gave a certain notoriety, which seemed to be the lot of PKs.  He was also a red head.  As typical of ministers moving to new churches was a common occurrence and adjusting to new schools was always a challenge.

The next church was in Lawrence, Kansas where Scott became interested in music, he played the tuba and later began to sing.  While in high school he also developed an interest in printing and in acting.  He was in high school plays and multiple other clubs and societies as well.  By his own admission he did not excel in high school but chose rather to have fun!  Toward the end of his high school career he began to sing in the church choir something that he enjoyed for many years.

Upon graduation, he took biology and 12 hours of college level classes.  To pay expenses he worked for a small wholesale meat company where he learned how to butcher and prepare meats for the retail market.   One Sunday a male quartet from York College, York , Iowa visited his church and Jerry Dierdorff , the second tenor talked with him about attending York College.  He offered to let Scott room with him in a basement apartment with two other students.  The rent was 75 cents a week per renter and 75 cents for food.   Scott was the cook.  Tuition at the school was $120 per semester and since his father was a minister Scott’s tuition was $60 per semester. On the first day of registration he met and later married Gerry Greene who was also a freshman at York.  He was active in college sports playing tennis and also football.  He also tried out and was accepted into the male quartet that traveled throughout the Midwest representing the college.  While in college he began to consider career choices and through the influence of his roommate Jerry Dierdorff’s brother who was an osteopathic physician in Michigan began to seriously consider that path as a career.  In his third year he applied to DesMoines  school and was advised that he need to take more premed classes to be eligible which he did.  And so in August of 1941 he enrolled in A.T. Still College of osteopathic medicine in DesMoine, Iowa.

Not long after he started his medical education at DesMoines  WW II started.  A draft of all young men of certain ages was instituted but students who were in medical school were exempted if their grades were good.  The school instituted an accelerated program where classes were year long, a more rigorous and demanding curriculum.  His roommate Jerry D. had gotten married and so Scott proposed to Gerry and in January of 1942 they married.  He proposed over the phone but Gerry said that he would have to do it in person.  So he borrowed a car.  The answer was "YES!” When?  Scott had various jobs, waiting tables at a nightclub and later driving a cab at night.  Gerry went to work for an insurance company.  In October 1943 in their senior year Gerry gave birth to their first son Jeff.  At the time it was customary for women to remain in the hospital for ten days then bed rest at home for another seven days.  Because Scott was a student doctor they would be allowed to come home after seven days.  The ride home was supposed to be in an ambulance, not by car!  They couldn’t afford an ambulance so some fellow students found a hearse that they could use.  Apparently during the ride home Gerry would wave from the windows of hearse watching the expressions on the faces of the onlookers as they drove down the street!

Scott interned at Detroit Osteopathic hospital, because of the trying circumstances they reluctantly decided that it would be best for young Jeff to stay with Gerry’s parents while he completed his internship.  Gerry was able to find work at Chrysler Corp.  Upon completion of internship and reunion with son Jeff the young couple began the search for a practice location. 

After a brief search of possible locations the family headed west. By this time Jerry Dierdorff was established in Medford, Oregon and so began a search for locations in Oregon.   Finally they chose Medford.  First they had to go to Portland for interviews and examinations with the Oregon Board of Medical examiners and on December 7, 1945 Scott was granted his license.

In Medford the family had no place to live so Scott lived for a time with Dierdorff and Gerry and Jeff stayed for a time with a sister in Tulare, California.  He practiced in Medford for 12 years and it was during that time two more sons Doug and Mark were added to the family.  The Osteopathic Hospital in Medford at the time was a residence.  The OB department was on the third floor of the hospital with no elevator!

Practice in Medford included delivering babies, covering the ER on a schedule seeing patients in his office and making house calls on a regular basis.  In addition he did doing all of his own surgeries.   He was also active in civic affairs including Salvation Army Board of Trustees, Rotary Club Board, and Board of trustees of the Methodist Church, Toastmasters, Country Club, and president of Southern Oregon Osteopathic Society in 1950.  He was also active in state politics in various capacities and later became president of the American Osteopathic Association.  It was during this time that he met E.L. Burnham, DO of Gladstone , Oregon.  They became good friends and decided to build a new building in Gladstone, Oregon they practiced there for 19 years.   By then the family had moved to West Lynn, Oregon and the boys were grown. 

Not long after his arrival in the Portland area, Scott joined the staff of the Portland Osteopathic Hospital and was involved in the relocation of the hospital to a new location.  He was on the staff of that hospital which later became Eastmoreland General Hospital until he "retired.”   Like so many other doctors who were on the staff at Eastmoreland Hospital he served on many of the standing committees of the hospital and in 1980 founded the department of osteopathic medicine at the hospital.   Scott "retired” repeatedly but each time he returned each time in a different role.  His last was the OMT department where he treated patients and helped to train a succession of osteopathic physicians many of whom are in practice to this day.

On arriving in Gladstone area, Scott immediately became involved in local politics.  He was a member of the board of directors Tri-Cities chamber of Commerce, Board Member and President of Oregon City Rotary Club, President of the Clackamas Knife and Fork Club, President of the Oregon Osteopathic Association, member of the house of delegate of the American Osteopathic Association, later president.   As a delegate from Oregon to AOA he became deeply involved in the national politics of the AOA and after serving as president elect of the AOA he was president 1969 -1970.  In addition to this organization Scott was also a lifelong member of the American Academy of Osteopathic Medicine and served as its president a first time 1979-1980 and again 1991-1992.  After completing his tenure as president, Scott was invited to Tulsa, Oklahoma to serve as dean of the new osteopathic medical school there.   After serving in that capacity for a time he then took a position as director of medical education at Tulsa Osteopathic Hospital.  After five years it was time to return to Oregon.  There he rejoined his old partner Dr. Burnham and the two practiced together in Gladstone, Oregon until Scott took the position as director of the department of Osteopathic Medicine at Eastmoreland Hospital.  When it came time to sell Eastmoreland Hospital, Scott was called upon to chair the new foundation that was formed from the funds this sale generated, The Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation.  As chair, he was instrumental in writing the bylaws of the new organization and in hiring the executive secretary of that organization, David Rianda.  This foundation continues to support the Osteopathic profession through student scholarships and other activities.

For most of his career, Dr. Heatherington continued to practice with his long time partner, Dr. Burnham.  Burnham was a strong supporter of Scott and would cover for him when Scott was on his many trips tending to AOA business.  Later the two were joined by Jerry King,DO for a time and then Terry Connor, DO who later took over the practice.  Both of the younger doctors were also very skilled as GPs and in the art of OMT.

Dr. Heatherington was the recipient of many awards over his career.  The Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation honored him in Oregon as GP of the year award in 1974, and Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.   He was honored to be the 18th. Thomas Northrup lecturer in 1990, the Scott Memorial Lecturer at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1991, and the AT Still Medallion of Honor by the Academy of Osteopathic Medicine in 1998.   As a strong proponent of the "Jones Counterstain Method” he was often called upon to assist in the education of osteopathic medical students in Pomona, California.  Today, the OMT department at the new school in Lebanon is named after Dr. Heatherington.

After a long and painful battle with cancer, Dr. Heatherington died on December 2000.   He is fondly remembered by his students, his patients and all the organizations that benefited by his participation.

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