Out of the Fog

If you’ve ever spent time in California’s Napa Valley, you may recognize this image. Blankets of dense, heavy fog covering the inland, surrounded by hills of vineyards gleaming from the sun’s rays. It’s a stunning, awe inspiring sight — from above. If you’ve ever been down in the valley, where the fog has sunken the deepest, it’s anything but. It’s heavy and dark, and at 6 am when the sun should be peeking its first light over the hills, you see nothing except the two feet that lay immediately below you. Who would know, with the soft mist of the impenetrable fog clouding your vision, that only a few feet away on either side, is the radiance of the Napa Valley mountains. Who would recognize the beauty of the landscape when you can barely see the crease lines on your own palm through the gloom. It’s impossible to know how much beauty lies around, when you’re standing in the middle of a fog.

Dr. Karen J. Nichols, D.O., needs no introduction. As the current chair of the ACGME Board of Directors, the first woman president of the AOA, and countless other positions and titles that only begin to encompass her accomplishments, Dr. Nichols is the embodiment of a trailblazer. Osteopathic medicine and its current recognition owes a great debt to her and what she has been able to achieve on behalf of D.O.s. All of these titles, however, are not even a close second to Dr. Nichol’s crowning achievement — her ability to connect to others, her dedication to patient centered care, and her humility. Listening to her speak sparks a fire in the hearts and minds of her audience to strive to be the best, most caring physicians (and people) that they can be.

“As we look to the future of medicine, it can be easy to forget how far we have come already. We live in a world where osteopathic physicians can practice globally and train alongside our allopathic colleagues, in large part thanks to the efforts of Dr. Nichols and her colleagues. We need visionaries like Dr. Nichols who not only envision what the future could hold for osteopathic medicine, but also inspire us in pursuit of the future where all physicians are working in unison to serve our communities. Thanks, Dr. Nichols!” – Katie Hockensmith, OMS IV, CCOM

When we asked Dr. Nichols to chronicle how she came to be in her current position, she described her upbringing on a rural Indiana farm, education, medical practice, role as dean of the founding osteopathic medical school and ultimate invitation to help run one of the premier edical education organizations in the country, in the same casual manner one would describe deciding what to eat for dinner.

Dr. Nichols explains her path as “walking through a fog”, following the path immediately before her as best she could, until she would go far enough that a side path would appear. She describes the path as one she hadn’t even known was there before she reached it. Dr. Nichols states she didn’t plan to become one of the most influential leaders of the Osteopathic field; she worked hard and learned as much as she could, unbeknownst to the hills and sunlight that fringed her path.

 “You have to have faith that the future will provide opportunities to reach your goals.”

That phrase is the basis for Dr. Nichol’s FOG acronym, a phrase that she uses when she illustrates her road through medicine, and also how she has inspired an entire generation of budding D.O.s during her time as dean of the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. Through everything, and with the long list of acronyms and titles after her name, Dr. Nichols manages to maintain an irrefutable approachability, through which students and colleagues of hers, both past and former, name her as instrumental in their own individual career trajectories.

If you’ve ever felt like you’re stuck in a fog, walking gingerly with each undiscerning step, listen to our interview with Dr. Karen Nichols, D.O. And in Dr. Nichols’ own words, keep walking, because there’s a side path just ahead that will lead you exactly where you need to be.

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