Kelly Parling-Lynch, DO, ’99, felt something needed to be said.
An A.T. Still University-Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (ATSU-KCOM) alumna, Dr. Parling-Lynch is now a medical oncologist with Cancer and Hematology Centers of Western Michigan. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic intensified across the country, she knew many were experiencing feelings of fear.
Many, herself included.
She thought back to her time as a University of Chicago undergraduate student, and later in Kirksville, Missouri, at medical school. Family, friends, coaches, and teachers would send her notes of encouragement, correspondence that proved vital when she was faced with tough times.
So, Dr. Parling-Lynch wrote a note of her own. She thanked her community for social distancing, for adhering to guidelines put forth by the medical community, and doing their part to keep everyone safe. She thanked those who were helping the community in other ways, too, from the companies donating personal protective equipment (PPE), to the teachers who were working to engage their students online, to those on the front lines in the healthcare field.
It began as a Facebook post but expanded to become a column in the Holland (Michigan) Sentinel newspaper.
“I wrote it out of this need to almost minister to people in a way that I knew I needed to be reassured, too,” she said.
Her education and experience in osteopathic medicine helped her find the words. Dr. Parling-Lynch remembered studying A.T. Still, DO, and the birth of a new way to approach medicine. This involved treating the body, mind, and spirit, the latter two she hoped to address in her writing.
“I can’t just take care of my physical presence, but I need to be thinking about my emotional state and my spiritual state, and those are all principles that are osteopathic principles,” she said.
Originally from Ithaca, Michigan, Dr. Parling-Lynch grew up in a town where three local physicians were ATSU-KCOM alumni. After completing her undergraduate degree, she followed in their footsteps and came to Kirksville, where she was highly involved as a student ambassador and a Student Osteopathic Medical Association member.
The relationships she made two decades ago have served her well, and particularly now during a time of crisis. She advised current and future ATSU-KCOM students to stay connected to those roots.
“That foundation is such an important part of your future,” Dr. Parling-Lynch said. “I really see it now in a time of crisis, to see my fellow alumni all working hard on the front lines. Reaching out and knowing how important those connections are, I feel like that’s been a boost.”
She completed her residency at Genesys Hospital and followed with a fellowship in oncology at William Beaumont Hospital, both in Detroit. She moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to practice professionally, and then to Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she became medical director of a new cancer center.
Both she and her husband were from Michigan, and desiring to be closer to family they returned to the state and have lived in Holland for the past five years.
COVID-19 has changed much about her practice. Where they had never done virtual visits before, now as much as 30% of their encounters are handled online. It’s something she predicts will be maintained at some level when things return to normal.
The office also has worked to increase its PPE supply to protect staff who continue in-person treatments. That’s where Dr. Parling-Lynch sees another outcome: pandemic preparedness.
“We knew Italy and China were going through these things, and we stayed flat-footed until it started messing with New York and Washington, and then everybody was on a chase to be prepared. Pandemic preparedness has been talked about every decade, but we became complacent,” she said. “We’re not going to be complacent again. Every health system is going to stock up and prepare.”
Osteopathic education will help healthcare providers be prepared, too.
“I remember when we were training for medicine, we read a lot of the history of A.T. Still and why he did what he did and went against the allopathic way. It was these pandemics,” Dr. Parling-Lynch said. “Our profession grew out of what’s happening now.”