The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM)-Virginia Campus has launched a new award honoring the Outstanding Clinical Faculty of the Year. The winner of the inaugural award is David G. Harden, DO, VCOM’s discipline chair for osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) and an associate professor for OMM and family medicine.
Growing up in Staunton and Roanoke, Dr. Harden had no plans to become a physician, despite the fact that his father was an internist and several family members were psychiatrists. After he graduated from high school in 1978, he headed off to the University of Colorado Boulder to study biology. While there, he continued training in Japanese karate, which he had begun several years before. He became interested in the mechanics of how the body works, and that’s when the idea of a career in health care really took hold for him.
Not sure about his next step, he researched chiropractic and Chinese medicine as well as an allopathic medical school but didn’t find what he was looking for until an advisor told him about osteopathic medicine. “After reading all the books the university library had on osteopathy, I set out to meet an osteopath,” Dr. Harden recalls. The young Harden met Keith Swan, DO, in Boulder. Then, about a year later, he had an injury on a construction site and ended up seeing Dr. Swan as a patient. “That was the amazing experience that sold me on the osteopathic track,” Dr. Harden says. Dr. Swan encouraged him to go to the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine. Following his advice, Dr. Harden spent five years at Kirksville—four years completing his degree and an extra year learning more about osteopathy and OMM.
Eventually, Dr. Harden made his way home to Virginia and set up a practice in Salem, Virginia. As a practicing osteopathic family physician, he provided care to patients from 18 months to 104 years of age. “If you see the moms, the dads, the grandparents, the kids in one family, you start to have ideas of how to tailor care for their needs,” he explains. “I always thought that family practice was extremely osteopathic because it represents an integrated philosophy and approach to health care.”
Working just a few miles from Blacksburg, Dr. Harden knew of VCOM from the very beginning and when Dixie Tooke-Rawlins, VCOM’s founding provost and current president, reached out to him in 2004, he was struck by how closely his personal philosophy aligned with VCOM’s mission.
He takes great satisfaction in providing care to underserved people and has done so since his years in osteopathic school. “Many of my favorite rotations as a student were with doctors serving underserved areas, particularly Salud de Valle in Colorado where the family practice doctor at the time delivered babies, did small surgeries, provided medical care and osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) to migrant families,” Dr. Harden says. “That love for treating populations in need continued as I started to do mission trips with Sociedad Amigos de los Ninos started by Sister Maria Rosa Leggol, OCF, in Honduras. When I first started at VCOM, continuing medical missions with the school was an easy fit. Whether VCOM is helping in Central America or downtown Roanoke, it is obviously a mission that the school takes seriously.”
As VCOM-Virginia’s OMM discipline chair, Dr. Harden coordinates the OMM curriculum across all four years and works with the chairs at the other campuses to ensure consistency across the College. He makes sure that lectures are scheduled and delivered in a way that reflects VCOM’s objectives. He also
helps with labs and ensures that there are enough faculty present to teach students the manual skills. In addition, Dr. Harden creates the practical exams that evaluate students’ learning. He also works closely with the sports medicine department and the College’s osteopathic neuromusculoskeletal medicine (ONMM) residency to give residents learning opportunities while enhancing the educational experience for VCOM students.
You might think that would be enough to keep one guy busy, but Dr. Harden is also a teacher and a practicing physician. On Mondays and Wednesdays, he supports the ONMM residents as they’re seeing patients and reviews their patient charts and performance. In the afternoons, he sees his own patients, usually with a resident and a student learner.
He says he’s glad to be able to help patients, especially when those patients have been told that nothing can be done for them. “I have many patients who have had 20 to 30 years of problems and OMT can be a significant part of what keeps them functioning,” he says. Of course, he also enjoys working with students. “In the school’s OMM lab, students are learning to diagnose and treat by evaluating and treating their lab partners, basically 20-somethings. When students are at our clinic, however, they are evaluating 80–90-year-olds with chronic pain. It’s easy, but different, and I enjoy getting them used to using their skills with different populations and in different situations.”
His clinical experiences, both current and past, are an integral part of Dr. Harden’s teaching. “Like all clinical faculty at VCOM, I approach teaching with the background and understanding of my clinical practice and experience,” he says. “Every clinician has had experiences which give us better understanding of health.”
Dr. Harden enjoys teaching VCOM students, partly because VCOM has been so successful at recruiting students who are not just smart and capable, but also altruistic and committed to service. “Most schools have students who say they want to help the underserved, but VCOM has phenomenal and dedicated students who are also super smart. Its humbling for me to be able to watch them become physicians as they are already incredible people when they start.”
Dr. Harden’s well-rounded dedication to the College is why he has been recognized as the first winner of the Outstanding Clinical Faculty of the Year Award, an honor he calls “super awesome.” Clearly, his colleagues feel the same way about him! His dedication to students is evident, said one peer nominator. “When he is in clinic, he is actively teaching students and residents. When he is at VCOM, he is actively teaching students or working on ways to improve the student’s educational experience.” Moreover, the nomination says, he is effective in teaching new faculty to be better teachers. He leads by example and supports and encourages them as he pushes them to teach new topics.
A proud father of two and grandfather of six, Dr. Harden has been married for 42 years to his wife, Jane. We’re sure they’re as proud of him and this well-deserved honor as we are.