This question-and-answer session will be very “nutritious” for our readers! Meet Alexander Ford, DO, RD, a family medicine physician and dietitian (more to come!) from New York City.
Dr. Ford is a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) and is board certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians and the American Board of Family Medicine. He completed his family medicine residency at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Lakewood, Ohio, and served as chief resident.
Dr. Ford is currently based in his hometown of Albany, New York, and works for 4th Family, a nonprofit organization that provides programs to support urban youth. You may also know Dr. Ford from his work for the DOin which he was previously a regular contributor to our Diversity in medicine column.
Please give a warm welcome to Dr. Ford as we learn more about why he is a DO to know!
Here is an edited Q&A.
Tell us a little about yourself and your non-traditional path to becoming an osteopathic physician.
My journey into medicine began while I was a dietetics student. I majored in dietetics as an undergraduate because of my interest in wellness and disease prevention. I struggled with my weight throughout high school and witnessed the role of nutrition and exercise in maintaining health. During my dietetics internships, I encountered several patients suffering from health problems that could have been avoided or improved through lifestyle changes. I also realized, at that time, how little doctors were taught about nutritional science in medical school.
As a dietetics student, I had the opportunity to work with different doctors. It taught me about countless medical conditions and the associated pathophysiology and management. I quickly realized that my passion for dietetics had evolved into medicine. My need to better serve patients and recognize the limitations of my scope of practice as a dietitian inspired me to continue my education.
At this point, I only knew about allopathic doctors. My best friend had started pharmacy school at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM), and that was my first exposure to osteopathic medicine. The philosophy and principles of osteopathy intrigued me, and the pillars aligned with my views on health and why I was becoming a dietitian.
You have been an important part of 4th Family, an organization based in your hometown. How has this opportunity allowed you to give back to the community?
4th Family is an Albany nonprofit committed to empowering communities. 4th Family offers a wide range of programs aimed at uplifting and inspiring individuals through mentoring, personal development, health and wellness initiatives, educational programs, annual sports leagues, tournaments and on educational trips.
My best friend, John Scott, co-founded 4th Family in 2011. The name “4th Family” is based on an African proverb about community interconnectedness. The first family is the nuclear family, the second family is the immediate extended family and the third family is the extended family. This organization constitutes a fourth family for the young people of the community.
4th Family exposes underrepresented youth to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. We have partnerships with SC Johnson and Microsoft as well as the NBA, WNBA and NFL to highlight the role of STEM in athletics. I have been involved with this organization for about 10 years now. Initially, I volunteered as a dietitian and organized interactive nutrition talks for children and their families.
Since the beginning of my medical journey, John and I have discussed expanding the organization to include osteopathic medicine in 4th Family and designing a STEM+M (science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine) program for children. Osteopathic medicine is the focal point of the medical component of the STEM+M program. I was named Director of Medical Education for 4th Family in July and am leading the expansion of their STEM program into a STEM+M program.
In July, I attended the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, where 4th Family was invited to organize two STEM+M workshops in collaboration with the NBA, Jr. NBA, WNBA and Microsoft for youth in the Las Vegas community. I gave a presentation on sports nutrition and wellness and answered questions about the osteopathic profession from NBA staff and youth members. My vision as 4th Family’s Director of Medical Education is to create a pipeline for underrepresented youth to be exposed to careers in healthcare and to work with an osteopathic physician who also provides treatment of osteopathic manipulation (OMT).
4th Family also works with several inner-city public schools to bring the AIM program to area youth. The AIM program is a comprehensive wellness program that I developed as a medical student to alleviate mental health stigma among African American children and adolescents. After several revisions, the AIM program is now a 10-lesson program that gives children, teens, and young adults the foundational skills needed to “go for” their goals both in and out of the classroom. Course topics include health literacy, nutrition literacy, visual imagery, and positive self-talk.
You finished your residency this year. How did you know that family medicine was your calling and what are your career plans after residency?
Before enrolling in medical school, I read literature on various medical specialties. I was immediately drawn to primary care. The emphasis on health promotion, disease prevention, and health maintenance complemented my ideals. As a dietitian, I have learned that exercise and nutrition are integral to health.
My interest in many areas of medicine led me to focus more on general medicine when I entered medical school. As I continued to explore primary care, it was family medicine that had the greatest impact on me. I entered medical school to gain more knowledge about the patients I encountered as a dietitian and to maximize my potential as a future practitioner. Family medicine aligned with these wishes by allowing me to treat the whole patient and integrate patient care instead of focusing on a specific organ system. I found family medicine exciting because it offered the opportunity to receive extensive training, allowing the physician to provide health care to people of all ages and genders.
Given that you were a former osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) researcher, how do you integrate osteopathic manipulative medicine into your clinics? Do you use preferred techniques in the clinic that improve your patients’ musculoskeletal complaints?
I regularly incorporate OMT into my practice and am fortunate to have an employer who supports me in performing these procedures and recognizes the health benefits. I frequently see patients with upper and lower back pain and use soft tissue and myofascial release (MFR) for these visits. During this season, the office is busy with visits from acute patients to manage respiratory infections. I like to practice lymphatic techniques in these situations to support the patient’s immune system and improve the capabilities of their lymphatic systems.
I became passionate about OMT during the summer between my first and second year of medicine. 4th Family hosted its first STEM-based basketball camp in Upstate New York.
During camp, one of the kids sprained his ankle while attempting a layup. I assessed his injury and, with his parents’ permission, performed a counterstain to speed his recovery and relieve his pain. The technique brought him rapid improvement in his range of motion and pain level. This experience made me appreciate the art and benefits of OMT even more and made me want to hone my skills and ultimately become a OMT Fellow.
How do you use your knowledge as a dietitian as a doctor to help your patients?
I use my knowledge of dietetics in the clinic on a daily basis. Patients in my office have the opportunity to schedule with me solely for nutritional advice and to address their specific dietary concerns and interests. I had the opportunity to work with integrative medicine and functional medicine specialists during medical school and residency and integrate this knowledge into patient encounters.
For example, before prescribing an antibiotic, I will discuss the impact of antibiotics on the gut biome, define prebiotics and probiotics, and then discuss ways the patient can increase their intake by changing their diet.
What advice would you give to doctors who would like to advise their patients on nutrition?
Establishing goals with your patients during the first meeting is often helpful in creating clear expectations and motivating each other. Starting with the basics of nutrition can have a very significant impact on the patient. With so many diets on the market, it is easy for the clinician and patient to wonder which one is best.
Starting with an introductory discussion on read a food label and the general criteria of “good” fats, carbs, and proteins provide an excellent basis for most people. It can be incorporated into the standard medical appointment when discussing social history or establishing patient-centered goals. A good reference site is Eat wellthe official website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the DO or the AOA.