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News & Press: History of the Osteopathic Profession

Birdie Eugenie Willis, DO - History of the Osteopathic Profession

Monday, March 26, 2012   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Stiger, DO
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 Dr. Willis, Genie to her friends, came to Oregon and the Osteopathic Profession in a manner that can only be descried as “the hard way”. Still, very energetic despite her years, speaks her mind and she has been an example and inspiration to the young DO students she has trained and especially to the young women who have entered the profession. Here is here story.


I was born in the prairie town of Bengough, Saskatchewan in Canada and spent my early years in the little village of Ritchie where my father sold oil to the developing machine age and my mother was the local postmistress. I was the middle of three children – an older sister Marguerite and a younger brother Bob. From age 6 I attended a small one-room country school, Rexall.


I knew and had high regard for Dr. Ireland who rode the circuit for the area on horseback or with a democrat or sleigh. He always stopped for Mom's coffee and had time to talk to me. My enjoyment of his conversation and company resulted in me telling him I wanted to be a doctor just like him. He encouraged the idea and emboldened by this, I asked if I could have the next baby he found in his black bag. He answered yes! Much to my chagrin he gave the next one to Mrs. Scott and made my list of disappointments. Took him a long time to find out what had happened to our relationship, but he eventually did! We had a long discussion and were once again best friends. Somehow, the idea stuck.


At age 8 I witnessed first-hand the drought that created the 'dust bowl' in the prairies of the US and Canada. It was no longer possible to grow a garden which had been a staple and source of fresh vegetables for the family. The Great Depression arrived. The family was in the process of building their home, the Bank of Weyburn went bankrupt so the family moved to Ogema and a farn of a Great Uncle Joseph. Winter was close at hand and we were glad to have a warm house.


I was in High School in WWII and in 1943 in my junior year, I quit school and joined Canadian Women's Army Corps. I was stationed on Headquarters Staff with the Provost Corps and G2 Intelligence, and at the end of conflict continued in the Reserve Force attaining the rank of Captain. I am still a Canadian citizen and a 'green card carrier' renewing as necessary. Post war was a period of many jobs, teaching at Reliance School of Commerce, selling advertising in Fraser's Canadian Trade Directories, printing supplies and finally working as the secretary to the Business Manager of the Camsell Indian TB Hospital in Edmonton. The "Doctor Bug" bit again. I was able to use my military credits to return to a Prematriculation School in Calgary, so now I could start University training. However, there was still a point system for University admission to give the male veterans priority, so back to work again for another Hospital Administrator. Then back to teaching again at Hendersons Secretarial School. In a few months I learned I was turning out students who were earning more than I was. Back to the drawing board once more.


A move to Windsor, Ontario and secretarial employment with the City Solicitor. The US was just across the Detroit River and I became a 'nickle immigrant".  Hygrade Food Products and Bigelow Liptak Corporation were employers who expanded my horizons. The engineering firm utilized my services to organize their construction department. I supervised two installations I

take a lot of pride in-Shell Oil in Anacortes, WA and ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia. Exciting and fulfilling until I found out it was possible to obtain a University degree by attending Night School. Eight years later with my BA/Sc degree firmly in hand I entered Chicago College of Osteopathy, in Chicago, Illinois. In 1968 with my diploma in hand I headed West to Portland. Dr. Paula Eschtruth had invited me to visit in December. It snowed white in Portland, and they were playing golf in the snow with red golf balls! What could be more inviting!


The Internship at Portland Osteopathic Hospital with fellow Canadian Melvin Gerber, James Bondurant and Michael Kozak was a lively year with the usual frustrations and excitement. 1969, the final step in a very long road with many turns and twists was nearly complete. Where to hang the shingle?


A realtor in the area of Woodstock offered to sell me his office, an ideal situation. I had made a commitment to work alternate nights and weekends in the Emergency Room at the Eastmoreland Hospital to give me some cash flow until the patients found me, and I could refer from the ER to my office. This situation continued for two years until I found a secretary who stayed with me for 29 years. I was finally the General Practitioner like Dr. Ireland, just as I dreamed. As part of my Hospital Staff privileges I served a term as Chairman of the Intern Training Committee.


No one was ever refused service and I gave full service to the best of my ability. I delivered babies, assisted in surgery and performed surgery, held hands and slapped them when necessary, and was available to my patients 24/7 until 2004.


At age 79 I thought it was time to try something new as there was a monumental change taking place in doctor/patient relationships. I was developing an interest in plants and gardening so the next thing was Bees. I particularly enjoy working with them and harvesting the fruits of their labors.


I missed the personal contact with my patients so changed to community activities. I joined and am still an active Rotarian. I joined the local Neighborhood Association and Business Association, two garden clubs, bridge club and pinnochle club. One of the saddest times for me was when Eastmoreland Hospital was sold and demolished. It hurts each time I drive by. The funds from the sale were invested in the Northwest Osteopathic Medical Association and funds and donations are now available for deserving DO's in training.

I am pleased to support the females in any way I can. They just have to go for it!


The bright note on our horizon is the establishment of our own Oregon osteopathic university with the assistance of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific from Pomona, CA in Lebanon, OR.

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