Heinrich, Wicker, Lee Lead Bipartisan, Bicameral Call For Increased Access To Osteopathic Medical Research That Benefits Rural, Underserved Communities

Lawmakers express that supporting osteopathic medical schools can also address nation’s doctor shortage

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and U.S. Representative Susie Lee (D-Nev.) led a bipartisan, bicameral group of 23 lawmakers in a letter urging Acting National Institute of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Lawrence A. Tabak to expand funding opportunities for research in osteopathic medicine.

Osteopathic physicians have expertise in the musculoskeletal system and receive additional training in osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a hands-on technique and non-pharmacological solution to pain management. This type of treatment can serve as a non-addictive alternative to opioids.

Increasing this focus at the NIH would help to address health disparities in rural and medically underserved populations and advance research in primary care, prevention, and treatment. This also helps address the nation’s doctor shortage – 58% of osteopathic medical schools are located in states with Health Professional Shortage Areas, including New Mexico, Mississippi, and Nevada.

In the letter to NIH Director Tabak, the lawmakers write “We are concerned by the historic disparity in NIH funding and representation for [Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (COMs)].”

Osteopathic is the fastest growing medical field in the country and 38 osteopathic medical schools nationwide currently educate nearly 34,000 physicians – 25% of all U.S. medical students.

Unfortunately, osteopathic medical schools receive only 0.1% of NIH grants compared to 40% for allopathic schools.

In the letter, the lawmakers outlined critical steps for NIH to expand research funding for COMs. This includes guidance to:

  1. Establish a structured partnership with the osteopathic medical education community, including the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), which creates and executes a plan to increase NIH funding for COMs.
  2. Establish a program to incentivize principal investigators from COMs.
  3. Consider opportunities to fund research projects that incorporate the osteopathic philosophy and OMT.
  4. Increase representation for the osteopathic profession on NIH National Advisory Councils and study selection reviewers.

The letter from the lawmakers is supported by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM).

“For decades, NIH has neglected the world class research being done at colleges of osteopathic medicine,” said Dr. Robert A. Cain, AACOM President and CEO. “Increasing funding for osteopathic medical research will help our nation in its efforts to address health disparities in rural and underserved populations, enable us to better understand the COVID-19 pandemic and advance the quality of treatment in primary care and beyond. We thank Senators Heinrich and Wicker as well as Representative Lee for their leadership on this issue.”

The bipartisan letter is also signed by U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-Ark.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.).

In the House, the letter is signed by U.S. Representatives Cynthia Axne (D-Iowa), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Ben Cline (R-Va.), Peter DeFazio (D-Mass.), Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.), Andy Kim (D-N.J.), Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Tom O'Halleran (D-Ariz.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), David Rouzer (R-N.C.), William Timmons (R-S.C.), and Grace Meng (D-N.Y.).

Read the full text of the letter below or by clicking here.

Dear Dr. Tabak,

Thank you for your commitment to improving the health of the American people through medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As members of Congress, we know that Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (COMs) are integral to our nation’s supply of physicians and our research capacity.

In the Joint Explanatory Statement accompanying the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L 117-103), Congress acknowledged that increased funding for research within osteopathic medicine would significantly boost NIH's capacity to support our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Increased NIH capacity within osteopathic medicine would help to address health disparities in rural and medically underserved populations and advance research in primary care, prevention, and treatment. We write to request that the NIH prioritize funding opportunities for research in osteopathic medicine.

We are concerned by the historic disparity in NIH funding and representation for COMs. Osteopathic medicine is the fastest growing medical field in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Health Professions. Additionally, the 38 COMs nationwide currently educate nearly 34,000 physicians – 25 percent of all U.S. medical students. Nonetheless, osteopathic medical schools are underfunded by NIH, receiving only 0.1 percent of NIH grants compared to 40 percent for allopathic schools. Furthermore, there are no doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) among the 3,233 study section reviewers at the NIH and only one DO among the 462 National Advisory Council members. If these disparities in funding and representation continue, NIH will miss key opportunities to address some of the nation’s most pressing health threats.

COMs are committed to serving rural and underserved communities. Fifty-eight percent of DOs are located in Health Professional Shortage Areas, and nearly 40 percent of physicians who practice in medically underserved areas are DOs. These doctors serve as the backbone of the primary care system, with more than half of them practicing in primary care specialties. COMs routinely train osteopathic medical students in community-based settings, in alignment with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Initiative to Strengthen Primary Health Care.

Osteopathic physicians offer a unique voice and perspective in the medical community. DOs have expertise in the musculoskeletal system and receive additional training in osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a hands-on technique and non-pharmacological solution to pain management. NIH is strongly encouraged to increase research into this treatment as a non-addictive alternative to opioids. As NIH seeks to address the disparities identified by Congress and expand research funding and representation for COMs, we urge NIH to take the following additional steps:

  1. Establish a structured partnership with the osteopathic medical education community, including the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), which creates and executes a plan to increase NIH funding for COMs.
  2. Establish a program to incentivize principal investigators from COMs.
  3. Consider opportunities to fund research projects that incorporate the osteopathic philosophy and OMT.
  4. Increase representation for the osteopathic profession on NIH National Advisory Councils and study selection reviewers.

We encourage you and NIH leadership to meet with relevant stakeholders to discuss the issues outlined in this letter. We thank you for your attention to this important matter and look forward to learning more about your efforts to advance funding and representation opportunities for osteopathic medicine.