Featured Osteopathic Family Physician:
Nicole Heath Bixler, DO, MBA, FACOFP

Dr. Bixler was born in Winfield, Illinois – a suburban area near Chicago. At that point, no one in her family had ever gone to college or had a career in the medical field. Her family moved to Pennsylvania when she was 10 in order to be closer to her grandparents.

During 8th grade, she sustained three gymnastics injuries, which exposed her to medicine from the ER, to orthopedics, to physical therapy and with her family doctor, a solo DO, who practiced on Main Street in her small town of Palmerton, Pennsylvania.

She’s currently a physician at Immediate Medcare & Family Doctor of Spring Hill in Florida. She a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at NOVA Southeastern University, College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Among her many honors and awards, she received the Florida Society of  ACOFP Physician of the Year in 2012, Hernando County Business and Professional Women Glass Ceiling Award in 2011 and the ACOFP Outstanding  Young Physician of the Year in 2011.

She currently serves on the ACOFP Board of Governors.

She believes a good mentor is someone who takes the time to answer questions and shows genuine interest. The best mentor relationships evolve naturally from working with students. A red flag to watch out for is when a mentor appears to be actively trying to mentor a number of students at the same time.

: What kind of person makes the best osteopathic family physician?
I believe the best osteopathic family physicians are people who are well-rounded with common sense, empathy, kindness, a willingness to learn and an innate ability to communicate effectively. Effective communication, both expressing and receiving, could be the one factor that ties together all other attributes and makes an osteopathic family physician stand out above the rest.

: What is your best advice for students who are undecided?
Approach every rotation with the question in your mind, “Could I see myself doing this every day for the rest of my life?” Don’t be afraid to ask resident and attending physicians about their quality of life and if they truly love what they do every day. I believe one crucial question you have to ask yourself is how much variety you want in your professional life. If you thrive on consistency and repetition – a subspecialty may suit you best, if you enjoy patients of all ages and the ability to treat just about every diagnosis – then family medicine is for you.

: What is your favorite aspect of osteopathic family medicine?
The absolute of not knowing what each day will bring is my favorite aspect of what I do. I have had the opportunity to treat patients from age 2 days old to 99 years old. I treat the routine colds and hypertension, have delivered babies and assisted in surgeries, see patients in my office and in the nursing home, do skin procedures and joint injections, but best of all I get to know my patients and become an integral part of their life and they of mine.

: Why did you go into osteopathic family medicine?
For me it was my third year of medical school when I rotated with an osteopathic family physician that finalized my decision. Prior to that month I was favoring Pediatrics, but the month with Dr. Blanck opened my eyes to the many opportunities family medicine had to offer. The variety of each day made me excited to see what we were going to do the next day. I was most enamored with the continuity of care that I witnessed and the bonding that takes place between a patient and their family physician. I never saw that intimacy in any of my other rotations. After two weeks, I was hooked and never considered another specialty.

: What do you know now in regard to selecting a specialty that you wish you knew when you were an osteopathic medical student?
I think the only aspect that I was unaware of at the time is the volume of work that is associated with being a family physician that is not necessarily direct patient care. The paperwork (or now computer work) can be somewhat overwhelming at times, but I do not think that is unique to my specialty. Medicine has evolved and continues to do so – with the advent of EMRs, quality reporting, Medicare measures and regulations, pay for performance, and the upcoming ICD-10 – there is a significant amount of information that you have to keep up with besides basic medical knowledge. This might be a factor to consider now when seeking a specialty that certainly was not even a consideration when I was choosing. All that said, I still would not do it any differently.

: What qualities should students look for in a mentor and what are some red flags for them to avoid?
I think the best quality in a mentor is that they may not even qualify themselves as such. To be a true mentor, you set an example and inspire someone else to do their very best. A mentor engages someone – maybe even when you least expect it, simply because they are not necessarily trying to serve in that role, but because it comes naturally. To quote our oath – to set an example of what an osteopathic physician should be. A mentor truly always has time to answer your questions or provide some guidance. Most importantly, they should be genuine and true to their word. I believe anyone who is actively seeking to mentor a number of individuals at the same time is a red flag. I think the mentor/mentee relationship evolves without it necessarily having to be stated as such.

: What has your mentors taught you?
My mentors have taught me to believe in myself, never be afraid to achieve at the next level and most importantly, pay it forward. There have been a few times in my professional career, particularly with leadership roles, that I second guessed that I was ready to ascend or take on a new position. Each time I was encouraged and reassured that I was ready by one of my mentors and each time they have been right. I have also learned that whenever there is an opportunity to teach or make an impression on a student, resident or colleague – take the time to promote our great profession. The promotion of our profession is not only in word, but in good actions through leadership and advocacy.

: What specific questions should students ask their mentors?
I would ask the following:

  1. What can I do to make osteopathic family medicine a rewarding career?
  2. What options do I have in the realm of family medicine?
  3. If you had to choose to start over, would you choose medicine as a career? If not, why?
  4. Do you feel you have a good balance of work and family life?
  5. What steps do I need to take to become a leader in our profession?

Published April, 2015