Featured Osteopathic Family Physician:
Thomas E. Sabalaske, DO

Dr. Thomas E. Sabalaske grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania. While neither of his parents were physicians, he always had an interest in medicine. During college, he was introduced to a possible career in osteopathic medicine, which he ended up pursing. 

He is currently a family physician at Feasterville Family Practice, north of Philadelphia, where he administers a full range of family medical services, including preventive, acute and chronic condition management and osteopathic manipulation.

He is also director of osteopathic manipulative training at Aria Healthcare System in Philadelphia. There, he prepares and delivers monthly lectures of interns, residents and guest attending physicians on osteopathic manipulative therapy technique and theory.

He is a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He graduated from University of Scranton with a biology degree.

He advises students to find mentors who are not just successful but also are enjoying their work. That’s because it’s important to find mentors who are able to strike that balance and who can teach you how to do that  He says mentors who are appear egotistical are best to be avoided regardless of how successful they may appear.

His mentors have taught him how to balance caring for patients while still maintaining a life balance. Students should ask mentors what they should know about that might not be obvious to them at the current points of their medical training.

What kind of person makes the best osteopathic family physician?  
The best family physicians are those who dedicate themselves to patients’ health. When you really care about the patients, you use all of your available resources to help them. You realize you are part of a medical team that is available to help your patients, and you put your ego aside and coordinate services with other specialists, therapists, nutritionists, etc. Insurances looking to keep costs down can cause distractions, but your focus should always be getting your patients the appropriate and necessary tests, referrals and follow-up appointments.

What is your best advice for students who are undecided?
Picture yourself in a specialty 20 to 30 years from now.  Many specialties may seem exciting, or the financial aspects may seem tempting. Before deciding, ask yourself if you are going to enjoy helping patients in this capacity when you have a family.  For me, I wanted a specialty in which I could develop great relationships with patients and their families and also have a broad range of medical knowledge. I didn’t want to specialize to the point where I wasn’t aware of other aspects of medicine.   I also wanted a specialty where I would not be required to go into the hospital while on call so I could dedicate more time to my family.  

What is your favorite aspect of osteopathic family medicine?
My favorite part of family medicine is being able to practice osteopathic manipulation.  So many patients have conditions that are easily treated with just a few minutes of manipulation, followed by some exercise instruction, and I find it very rewarding.  I also get referrals from some of the surrounding orthopedic groups to work with the patients they are unable to help.  It is amazing how many expensive and unnecessary tests and treatments some patients go through when simple osteopathic treatment can solve their issues and enhance their health.  Treating children and newborns is always rewarding. Helping a baby eliminate colic in one or two gentle cranial sessions really makes me feel like I am improving an entire family’s life. 

Why did you go into osteopathic family medicine?
I chose family medicine because it provides opportunities to create ongoing relationships with patients and their families.  It also gives me a wide breadth of knowledge in medicine and allows me to help people with manipulation.

What do you know now in regard to selecting a specialty that you wish you knew when you were an osteopathic medical student?
Each specialty has its “bread and butter” activities that are repetitive. Family medicine requires physicals and treatment of minor infections. Surgery has cholecystectomies and appendectomies.  You need to choose a specialty that has repetitive activities that you will not tire of and will continue to enjoy.

What qualities should students look for in a mentor and what are some red flags for them to avoid?
Look for a mentor who is both successful with their practice and enjoying it.  Creating a balance is very important, so find a mentor that can show you how to accomplish that.  Stay away from mentors that are ego-based.  Mentors who do not practice the way you intend to, perhaps by rushing patients through or worrying about income over patient care, are also not ideal.

What have your mentors taught you?
I have had a few major mentors throughout the years, from my training all the way up to the present.  They helped me keep my focus on patient care and balance in my life.  My osteopathic manipulation mentors were wonderful in opening my eyes to gentler more thorough techniques to help my patients. 

What specific questions should students ask their mentors?
Ask mentors, at this point in their training, what are things the students should know about that might not currently be on their radar.  Often not knowing what you don’t know can be the most dangerous type of ignorance.  Students should make sure their medical knowledge is appropriate for their level of training.  Always ask the doctors for their real world thought processes on various medical concepts. 


Published July, 2015