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News & Press: History of the Osteopathic Profession

Erling J. Oksenholt, DO - History of the Osteopathic Profession

Tuesday, July 23, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: David Walls
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One of the important factors distinguishing the osteopathic profession has been that so many of these physicians have located in small towns.  The impact these doctors have made on their communities has been remarkable.   On the Oregon Coast in the town of Lincoln City is such a physician, Dr. Erling J. Oksenholt.  Dr. Oksenholt has not only made important contributions to the care of the people of Lincoln City but also in many countries around the world. This is his story.

Dr. Oksenholt was born into a family of high academic achievement. His father was a PhD in history was fluent in ten languages and taught history at a college in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  His mother was also an educator.   Erling and his brother Robert and sister Bertha spent their early years in Ethiopia, learning to speak the language fluently.  Most of Erling’s friends had parents who were medical people.  As a result he and his friends were often found at the local hospitals or clinics helping to attend to the many poor who were ill or disabled.  It was during that time that Erling decided to become a doctor.

Academic excellence was expected in the home and all three children excelled.  When Erling was age 12 his parents decided that to further their three children’s education it would be necessary to move back to the US.
His father took a position as a teacher at a high school in Montana.  When it was time for high school Erling and later his brother and sister were sent off to the Mt. Ellis Academy in Bozeman, Montana.   Since the school was over a hundred miles away the children stayed in Bozeman, while their parents were in another town.  Erling excelled academically, and still found time to be involved school politics, he graduated in the three years in 1964.

 After high school he attended college at Walla Walla College an Adventist College in Walla Walla, Washington.  There Erling again excelled, finding time in addition to his studies to turn out for soccer and work on the school paper in many capacities including editor on one occasion.  It was at the college that he met his wife to be Joan Bruer a teaching major from the Seattle area.  Until his senior year he thought that he would be attending an allopathic medical school but a career advisor mentioned that the Kansas City College of Osteopathic Medicine never had Saturday classes.  As a devout Adventist Christian observation of the Sabbath (Saturday) was crucial.

In 1968 he married Joan and was accepted into the Kansas City College of Osteopathic Medicine.  Again, Erling excelled academically and addition to his studies found the time to become the editor of the school newspaper.  He was given a lot of latitude in what was included in the paper and more than once the President of the college called him on the carpet to explain articles that rankled alumni or faculty!  He said that he and the President got to be on a first name basis.  While in school he met DOs who would later come to Oregon including Jay Betts, DO and Jon Nelson, DO.

After graduation he served his internship in the new osteopathic hospital in Kansas City and found he had many wonderful opportunities to learn at this huge new hospital.   He was offered several residencies during that year but remained steadfast in his desire to be a primary care physician.

When deciding where to locate in practice he and his wife had several criteria in mind, the first was a small town, the second there had to be an Adventist presence in the area, third potential for growth.  After considerable “shopping” for a location they answered a listing placed by an MD adverting that Lincoln City was in need of more doctors.  After careful consideration and the fact that there was a brand new well-equipped hospital the young family decided that Lincoln City, Oregon would be the place.

On arrival, Erling hit the town in a hurry and soon he was involved in the hospital ER, in clinical practice and in the training of the local fire dept. and rescue in the latest techniques.  Forty years later he is still deeply involved in the training and advising of EMTS!  Lincoln City is right on the Pacific Ocean and not infrequently fishermen, or recreational swimmers would experience near drowning in the cold waters.  The victims were brought to the nearest hospital for treatment of their hypothermia.  In only a short time Dr. Oksenholt became the leading expert on the condition in the area.  He wrote a chapter in “Conn’s Current Therapy “on the topic as well as numerous journal articles and presentations around the country.  To date he estimates that he has treated over 100 victims who would never survived otherwise.

Dr. Oksenholt arises each day at 4:30 AM studies for an hour or two and then walks to the nearby hospital where he is the ER supervisory physician and then on to his clinic where he sees patients until 6 to 7 PM.  He takes one day a week off - the Sabbath.
Early in his career he became interested in medical missionary type work.  He began to form teams, which initially travelled to the jungles of Brazil, treating and more importantly educating the villagers.  He stressed practical treatments such as a combo of butter and sulfur for scabies and other simple remedies that could easily be taught to the medicine men and others. Later Dr. Oksenholt and his team returned to Ethiopia and in 1998 began a program that has developed into a teaching hospital, several clinics, an orphanage that now has 100 children, and a high school with over 1000 students.  Many of these programs were the result of Dr. Oksenholt’s leadership and collaborative skills.  In addition to Brazil he has led teams to Borneo, Lesotho, New Guinea, Peru, Solomon Islands, Tanzania, Zambia, Rwanda, and Thailand.
To keep himself up to date medically, Dr. Oksenholt has competed for several years in a program sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic called the “Smartest Doctor Competition,” recently he placed sixth in a group of 8000 doctors who were competing!  He has become board certified by The American Academy of Family Practice and recertified every six years since 1984, American College of Family Practice, Emergency Medicine, Sports Medicine, and Geriatrics; most recently he is studying for recertification in Geriatric Medicine.
Since starting practice 40 years ago Dr. Oksenholt has always had medical students and residents with him.   They come from various schools most recently OHSU and next year it will be COMP NW.  Often his teams will include residents and students providing invaluable exposure to the “real world” for these young people!

 Dr. Oksenholt and his brother Robert are affiliated with the Samaritan Hospital Group located in Lebanon.  Robert, an osteopathic pulmonologist and intensivist who practices in Albany suggested the idea of an osteopathic medical school in Oregon to his boss Larry Mullins, CEO of Samaritan Group.  Erling spoke with Jeff Heatherington, chairman of Family Care and former Executive Secretary of OPSO about the same topic and so a meeting was held and as a result our new osteopathic school in Lebanon, Oregon is now in operation!    
The Oksenholts have two children, son Erling Jon and daughter Karina Joan  and four grandchildren.  In his leisure time he enjoys ham radio operation and coin collecting.

Dr. Oksenholt states that he loves what he does and has no plans to retire.   When asked if he used OMT in his practice his answer is yes, once or twice a day, but feels that more importantly his osteopathic education prepared him for a career where the patient comes first. The joy is the giving of yourself; not how much you can earn!

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