Summer Road Trip 2019: The Next Generation of Health Care in District 5


On the seventh stop of his road trip, Jeff meets Andrea Masvero, executive director of the Osteopathic Foundation of West Michigan, who partners to help the next generation of doctors achieve their dreams and make a difference in their communities.

November 18, 2019

Map of Michigan

For more information about the OsteoScholars program, visit

Summer Road Trip 2019: The Next Generation of Health Care in District 7 

Jeff Dwyer: According to research by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States could experience a shortage of up to 120,000 primary care physicians by 2030. Because of a significant aging population and population growth, the demand for physicians already exceeds the supply. We need organizational partnerships to support the health of Michigan communities and meet emerging health needs, such as the need for doctors. I'm Jeff Dwyer, director of Michigan State University Extension, and this is Partnerships and Peninsulas.

Intro: This is Partnerships and Peninsulas, and just like the state of Michigan, this podcast is filled with stories of amazing people who are doing wonderful work from Marquette to Monroe. Sit back and discover everything you didn't know about Michigan State University Extension. Here's your host, Jeff Dwyer.

Jeff Dwyer: My guest today is Andrea Masvero, the executive director of the Osteopathic Foundation of West Michigan. Thank you for joining me today.

Andrea Masvero: Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Jeff Dwyer: So Andrea, tell me a little bit about the Osteopathic Foundation of Michigan, what it is, and what you are accomplishing and hope to accomplish.

Andrea Masvero: Absolutely. The foundation has been around for more than 30 years now. It was established originally as part of Muskegon General Hospital, which was an entirely osteopathic hospital, and now we are proud to support Mercy Health in the work that they're doing in our community, as well as other organizations. We really believe that the osteopathic approach to medicine is a very important part of healthcare, particularly when we look at embracing this idea that people are body, mind, and spirit all together. And I think as we look at many of the healthcare issues we face today, we're realizing that that's a really important approach to healthcare. So our mission, our vision as a foundation, is to bring wellness within reach to every member of our community. Sometimes that's geographical, putting doctors in places and clinics in key locations. Sometimes it's meeting a specialty need, and sometimes it's looking at more fundamental wellness issues like nutrition and physical activity and a sense of belonging.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, that's really fantastic. Before we talk a little bit about the partnership we've had for more than a decade, some of our listeners may not be familiar with the term osteopathic or may not be familiar with osteopathic medicine. Could you provide a little description?

Andrea Masvero: Absolutely. I'll do my best. There are two types of fully licensed physicians in United States, certainly MDs or allopathic physicians, and then there are DOs, who are osteopathic physicians. They both receive a very similar training in fully going through medical school and residency and those sorts of things. They have a little different philosophy in their teaching, and osteopathic physicians are often confused with orthopedic surgeons, who do a lot of bone surgery and joint work, because of the word osteo in the title, but it really relates to the functionality of the body, how all the systems come together, and the structure of the body affecting how the different systems operate. It's come to really pioneer the idea of wellness in healthcare, that this is kind of a fundamental need in the way the body works together. You know, it's not just a function of one system on its own. They're all coming together to create a healthy person.

Jeff Dwyer: That's a terrific explanation, and maybe I could just add that one of the things that makes Michigan State University quite unique is that we train both kinds of physicians, osteopathic and allopathic physicians, and further unique in that training both in a sort of community connected way, as opposed to at a single health center. So I think that's very exciting and certainly has a great deal to offer everyone. MSU Extension and the foundation began collaborating way back in 2001, I believe. Will you tell us about the OsteoScholars program that we work on together?

Andrea Masvero: Absolutely. And to actually go back even behind OsteoScholars, OsteoScholars was inspired by Michigan State's OsteoCHAMPS program that was founded by Dr. Aguwa. She actually came to our board around that time, about 2001, and talked about a program she was beginning on the east side of the state to develop more diversity in healthcare and asked if our foundation would be willing to contribute and to support students from the West Michigan area to come to that program. So we continue to support that. That's now a summer program at MSU and has been running strong for a long time. We're very proud of that and glad to partner with you on that, but it has limited capacity, and so we were finding more and more students interested in going and we were having to turn away more and more. So we adapted that format to start OsteoScholars.

    Frank Cox, who is a wonderful member of the MSU Extension team, was a pivotal part in that. He has been with the predecessor to the OsteoScholars program since those early days, around the early 2000s, and he kept bringing career development advice to these students and how to build a great resume and how to get financial aid, so many essential elements that kids really needed to be able to be ready for college and certainly for medical school. It's a very competitive process. And so we were able to sit down with Frank and to bring some of those resources together and say, okay, how do we make something that we can do locally at a low cost, using local resources, and bring as many students as we can into this program to help them really be able to succeed and achieve their dreams?

    Becoming a physician is a very daunting process. Certainly I think if we find, kind of reaching back to Dr. Aguwa's goal of increasing diversity in medicine and opening more doors for people to become physicians, you can imagine if your household income is $30,000 and you hear that becoming a physician costs $300,000, you just write that off. You say that's not something I'm going to be able to accomplish, and we are able, by a step by step program, to just really lay out a process in partnership with Michigan State University and other medical colleges to say this is how you can achieve this. There are loan forgiveness programs, there are ways to serve in rural communities, there are ways to do military service. There are lots of opportunities along the way, certainly with scholarship funding and other things to help kids achieve this dream of becoming a physician. And then of course our goal is to bring them back to our community, so that these people who already know and love West Michigan are right back here in our community serving where they grew up, where their families are.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, I will say it's a brilliant program. Before, you and I haven't talked about this, but before I had the privilege of becoming the director of MSU Extension, I was in the College of Human Medicine for 10 years. One of the things you and I know from the research is that one of the best predictors of where a physician ends up practicing is where they're from. It's sort of like where they're from, where their spouse or partner is from, and then where they did their training. And so what you've put in place here with OsteoScholars is really quite brilliant. Tell me a little bit about, so we give our audience a sense of the scope of this, how many youth are in this program right now and how many do you think have engaged over the years?

Andrea Masvero: Well, this version of the program just started three years ago, and so the first year of this academic year program, we had about 30 students enrolled and we thought that was a pretty good response. It was every month that they would meet for an hour and a half in the evenings. High school kids are very busy, and so we thought that was a really, really remarkable turnout. The second year we were really gratified and we had 50 kids, and so we thought that is growth. We were feeling great about that. If we get 70 kids next year, we'll feel really comfortable that we have matured this program appropriately. Nothing prepared us last year, when we had 116 kids from 19 school districts enroll in this program. Kids are eager to learn, they're eager to really develop their talents, and just having this sort of support is so meaningful to them.

    At that point we didn't quite know what we were going to do to meaningfully connect with 116 students. We put out a call for volunteers to the osteopathic community and it just was fantastic. The response that we got for people who are willing to volunteer or from residents, quite literally the busiest people in the world, they're working, I don't know how many hours a week, they're spending a lot of time in their studies and inpatient care, and they're willing to come and show up for one night every month to be with these kids and they walk away saying, "If only I had had this when I was their age." And so that's been a really meaningful addition to the program, as well.

Jeff Dwyer: That's fantastic. And you know, it reminds me, you know a little bit about our other programs that are 4-H related, and of course Frank works with a number of those programs, as well. But I think even as we have a couple of hundred thousand youth across the state in 4-H, what a lot of people don't realize is that we could not do that without 16,000 adult volunteers. And it sounds like the same is true for OsteoScholars. So do you anticipate the program continuing to grow?

Andrea Masvero: I like to look at life in a way that doesn't have a lot of limits. So I would like to see how much growth we can manage. It's always about keeping the quality in the program and making sure that it's meaningful for the students, but to the extent that we can continue to do that and we can continue to have volunteer and donor support for it, we absolutely will continue to reach as many kids as we can.

Jeff Dwyer: That's terrific. So one of the things that people like you and I worry a lot about in any profession, but certainly in healthcare and certainly among physicians, is diversity. Diversity is important for many, many, many reasons. So have you seen in this program that you're able to reach a diverse group of youth?

Andrea Masvero: Yeah, the foundation service area is incredibly diverse. We reach all of Muskegon County, all of Newaygo and Oceana counties, and then the northern part of Ottawa County. And so we're serving lakeshore communities, we're serving urban communities, we're serving very rural communities, and they all have different needs. So it's been interesting to bring students together. Like I said, we serve 19 school districts, and so we are covering an incredible range of students in that mix. Some of them were valedictorians at very highly ranked school districts. They'll do very well no matter what, and we're happy to help them be more competitive when it comes to applying to med school and those things. But certainly one of the most important parts of this program is that it helps to level the playing field for students who wouldn't otherwise have connections to a dean at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, to a career counselor like Frank Cox, who specifically works with that development piece, or to other physicians who can tell them what that process looks like. And so this is a way of sharing that network with these students to level the playing field for them.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, it's a terrific program. So you mentioned the current version here has been going for about three years, but earlier related activities have been going on for, as well, since the early 2000s. Do you currently have physicians in the community here that went through some version of the earlier programming?

Andrea Masvero: We absolutely do. That's been one of the most exciting things. I'm very thankful that we have a very strategic minded board who is willing to take a long term position on this, because as you know, it takes a long time to move from a sophomore or junior in high school to becoming a physician. And so we've been investing in this program for a number of years and are very gratified that we have a strong pipeline of physicians coming up, and we certainly do have a couple of physicians in the community. One is Dr. Ben Visger, who volunteers very actively with our OsteoScholars program. He was an OsteoCHAMP in the early days and worked very closely with Dr. Aguwa and others who mentored him along the way. He shares a story with our students that says he was on a path to become a rock star before he was encouraged by the MSU team to embrace his abilities in the sciences and to become a physician. He's a wonderful addition to our medical community here.

    Also, Dr. Vandenbosch is a part of that early group of OsteoScholars. Dr. Hotwagner is practicing in Florida, but he was part of that early group, and we certainly have other students in all levels of the pipeline at the undergrad level, in the osteopathic medical scholars program, and in medical school at the College of Osteopathic Medicine. Hillary Howard came from the Oakridge school district and she is, I believe just graduated this year, and some others who have participated as tutor counselors for OsteoCHAMPS and really just become part of this step by step process of becoming a physician.

Jeff Dwyer: Our listeners will have an appreciation for what you've described over the last few minutes and the success, the outcomes that you're already able to show and the continuing growth of the program. This is really quite unique in the country. Do you get other communities, other states, other professional associations, reaching out to you saying, wow, that's really great. How could we do something like that?

Andrea Masvero: You know, believe it or not, there's a National Association of Osteopathic Foundations. It's not a big group, but it's a very committed group. And we do talk about this program when we get together for our conferences. Part of what's really unique is our position right next to MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. Not every foundation has that benefit of having a university practically in their backyard. So that does give us a significant advantage here. But we've definitely talked about how to replicate this elsewhere, and we're working on the documentation and so on to consider that as a possibility.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, that's great. And I know many of your colleagues and mine in osteopathic medicine, Dean Amalfitano and others, and while I've not talked with them specifically about this program, I know that this would really be at the heart of what they're trying to accomplish. And so I imagine that it's not only that they're there, but it's a group of leaders that really is working closely with you to make all of this happen.

    Andrea, we appreciate your partnership as we support new and current osteopathic doctors in meeting public health needs. This is Partnerships and Peninsulas. My name is Jeff Dwyer, and I have the privilege of being the director of Michigan State University Extension. My guest today has been Andrea Masvero, representing our health partnership with the Osteopathic Foundation of West Michigan. Thank you very much for being here with me today.

Andrea Masvero: Thank you, Jeff.