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10-Year Quest : California Osteopaths: on the Mend

August 18, 1987|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

Later, as the quality of osteopathic training improved and the practice came to include a full range of medical treatments, traditional physicians gradually began to concede that osteopaths are, in fact, "real" doctors with nearly identical backgrounds.

"The difference now is very slight, and the training they get is parallel," said James G. Magnall, a retired physician who recently finished a four-year term on the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance. "It's more of a doing the same thing but approaching it from a little different philosophical angle."

It was this new-found acceptance, ironically, that was largely responsible for the profession's demise in California in the early 1960s.

In an effort to establish "one single, high standard of care," leaders of the California Medical Assn. offered to incorporate osteopathic physicians within the ranks of traditional medicine. The unification, they reasoned, would upgrade the quality of medicine in California and eliminate confusion among the public about the differences between the two fields.

Most osteopaths readily agreed. The proposed merger was, after all, the long-awaited recognition that their qualifications and skills were equal to those of their traditionally trained counterparts.

With both osteopaths and medical doctors supporting the concept of a merger, California voters overwhelmingly approved a 1962 referendum that banned new osteopaths from being licensed. Proposition 22 gave practicing osteopaths the choice of keeping their doctor of osteopathy degrees or acquiring medical doctor licenses.

For a $65 fee, the large majority of California's 3,100 osteopaths accepted the offer to be relicensed as medical doctors. As part of the merger, the board of trustees of the College of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons in Los Angeles voted to convert the institution to a traditional medical school.

"It was my opinion that the people of California would receive better medical care if we combined the two philosophies," said Forest J. Grunigen, a retired Newport Beach urologist who traded in his osteopathic license for a medical license 25 years ago.

For a handful of determined osteopaths, including Allen, however, the merger represented a compromise of the distinctive osteopathic philosophy.

Along with a small group of die-hards, he led a 12-year fight to overturn the referendum and restore California's osteopathic profession to its former status as a separate medical field.

The battle eventually led to the state Supreme Court, whose justices ruled in 1974 that the ban was unconstitutional. The court ruled, in a case brought by eight out-of-state osteopaths, that the referendum had violated the equal protection provisions of both state and federal constitutions because it prohibited the outside osteopaths from practicing in California.

"I hate to say this, but the merger was kind of a blessing in disguise," said Viola M. Frymann, director of COMP's Osteopathic Center for Children in La Jolla. "It began a revival in the profession, so that the teaching of true osteopathic principles and practice is vastly stronger today than it was at the time."

Nowhere is that revival stronger than at COMP's five-building campus in Pomona.

Besides receiving the same four-year training as traditional physicians, COMP students are required to take 300 to 500 more hours of study in osteopathic curriculum, according to national figures supplied by the Chicago-based American Osteopathic Assn.

Students take all the standard courses in anatomy, biochemistry and pathology, and they meet for special classes, including musculoskeletal manipulations, known as palpations.

In a course called "Literature in Medicine," students are assigned to read Tolstoy, Camus and Kafka because, according to COMP President Philip Pumerantz, "patients are people with feelings, dreams and fears, and it is essential that their doctors have a sensitivity to their social and psychological needs."

The college also has a drama group, hailed as the only osteopathic theatrical troupe in the country. "We are training medical students who are well-rounded and sensitive human beings, whose gentle and caring spirits will make them the very best of osteopathic physicians," Pumerantz said.

The Wellness Club, a student organization, was formed on the premise that health is more than merely the absence of disease and can be promoted by developing a person's physical, mental and spiritual capacities.

'More Humanistic'

"If a student graduates from an osteopathic medical school, he's grounded in all the scientific paraphernalia that one needs, but he also has a philosophy that makes him more humanistic, that makes him sensitive and caring, that makes him people-oriented," Pumerantz said. "It's not done by mistake. We educate them that way on purpose."

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