Introducing Dr. Mohr: New SHSU-COM Dean
Feb. 3, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Mikah Boyd
By Nhi Nguyen
In September of 2022, Thomas J. Mohr, MS, DO, FACOI, FAOGME, a professor of internal medicine, took over as dean of the Sam Houston State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (SHSU-COM).
Dean Mohr joined SHSU-COM after serving as dean and chief academic officer at the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine (ICOM). Under his leadership, ICOM attained full accreditation and graduated its inaugural class of student doctors in May 2022. He had previously served on the founding faculty at a new medical school in San Antonio and fell in love with Texas. He is thrilled to return to the Lone Star State where his passion for expanding access to primary care medicine in rural and underserved areas is a perfect fit with SHSU-COM’s mission.
T@S: What is the difference between M.D. (medical doctor) and D.O. (doctor of osteopathic medicine)?
TM: Both MDs and DOs are licensed to practice the full spectrum of medicine and can pursue the specialty of their choice. However, osteopathic medical students spend their third and fourth years training in community-based and rural settings as opposed to large, urban academic medical centers. Those large centers tend to focus more on subspecialty care which is great, but 80 percent of healthcare in the United States is done in community-based centers and doctors' offices in rural areas across the country. That's what SHSU’s College of Osteopathic is focused on: training our students in those rural community-based settings to practice patient-centered and holistic healthcare focused on maintaining health instead of just treating disease. Osteopathic student doctors also train in musculoskeletal manipulation, where we use our hands to diagnose and treat. This is an additional tool in our ‘black bag’ that makes us different.
T@S: Why did you choose to study osteopathic medicine?
TM: I interviewed at both M.D. and D.O. schools, and at the M.D. schools, I was treated like a number and was only asked questions about my grades. Then I went to an interview with D.O. schools, they asked about me as a person, what my motivation was to be a doctor and why it was important for me to make a difference in the world. In doing so, they were able to assess my communication skills and interpersonal skills. How we relate with our patients – our bedside manner – can make a big difference in whether patients trust you and follow your recommendations. A great physician can sit on the side of your bed during difficult times to hold your hand and be a part of the healing process, not just write prescriptions or order tests. The osteopathic colleges were interested in me as a person, who I was, and what I wanted to be. I believed if they treated me this way as a student, the school would be better equipped to train me to treat my future patients in the same manner. That was the kind of physician I wanted to be.
T@S: SHSU-COM is a nationally competitive D.O. school and the first student cohort scored highly on its recent COMLEX USA Level 1 exams. What do you believe makes our program so successful?
TM: Our inaugural class had a 97.1 percent first-time pass rate on the national board exam. That puts us up in the top quarter of osteopathic schools across the country. My predecessors and our current faculty and staff really did a great job of laying the foundation of a quality curriculum here. You could say we just happen to bring in a great first cohort of students and they are great, but they wouldn't have done so well without a quality curriculum. You also must give credit to our student doctors because they really work incredibly hard to do this without upperclassmen to help guide them.
T@S: What made you want to come to Texas, and why did you choose Sam Houston for the next step in your career?
TM: There are some beautiful, wonderful things out in the Great White Northwest where I came from, including a lot of snow and ice. However, I couldn’t wait to get back to Texas! There is an ethos, a heart, a soul and identity, a pride and a passion and a lovable dysfunction to Texas that is not replicated anywhere else in the world. I already had a number of colleagues, members of the faculty, and administrators here at Sam that I had worked with before at other institutions. When the founding dean retired, I was suddenly getting calls from my former colleagues saying, “Hey, you should come down here.”
T@S: What is your favorite thing about being the Dean of SHSU College of Osteopathic Medicine?
TM: I really enjoy leading this group of incredible faculty and staff, but what I'm really looking forward to is going to happen in 2024. In May, we are going to have our first graduation and, at the same time, we will receive full accreditation. No medical school gets accredited until that first student walks across the stage. Therefore, when we have our first graduation, it's significant on many different levels. It is significant for each one of our students that has now been transformed into a doctor for the rest of their lives, it is truly a transformational process. For the life of this institution, the minute that happens, we become fully accredited as well. It is years of work that have gone into this and it will be a moment of great pride for the entire Sam community.
T@S: What about your profession do you love the most?
TM: The thing that I love the most about being in osteopathic medicine is that you get to be a part of people's lives and a part of people's families in the very worst of times, and the very best of times. You get to help people through the anxiety of deaths and the joy of births, and the changes that all of us go through over our life cycle. Being able to be a part of a person's life, their family or the community in a way that you can make a difference is such an honor. This group of people that we have here are part of something bigger than themselves and I think that is beautiful, it's a huge lesson to be able to make a difference in somebody's life.
T@S: What inspires or motivates you?
TM: More than anything, it's our student doctors. It's hard to become a doctor, it was hard back in the day, but it continues to be more and more difficult, and these men and women are making enormous sacrifices. You're not just showing up to take a bunch of classes, you are here to be transformed so you can make a difference in the world and that is what's inspiring. Our inaugural class started medical school at a new college with no upperclassmen and an untested curriculum just as the pandemic changed the world for everyone. They had to deal with all of that and yet they are continuing to persevere and have the flexibility and the grit to move forward and to succeed. Our students are my inspiration.
T@S: What do you consider necessary for success in this field?
TM: Student doctors must have the heart and the passion to succeed, as well as a huge amount of dedication to be able to make it through. Medical school is like drinking from a fire hose, it isn't easy. You can see people at all hours of the night and day here studying. Once they're in their third or fourth years they will be in hospitals and clinics doing really long hours, then they go home and study some more, so a huge amount of time and effort is needed to be able to make it through. However, from my experience, it is absolutely worth it, I wouldn't trade it for the world and there's never been a time that I've looked back on my career and regretted it. Our goal is to help every one of our student doctors find success and fulfillment in a career focused on service to others.
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