So What is an Obesity Medicine Specialist Anyway?

| April 1, 2021

by Christopher D. Still, DO, FACN, FACP

Co-clinical Editor of Bariatric Times; Medical Director for the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management, and Director for Geisinger Obesity Research Institute at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania.

Dear Colleagues,

I am frequently asked by patients and physician colleagues, “What exactly is an Obesity Medicine Specialist (OMS) and what do you do?” Since it is one of the fastest growing specialties, and post-COVID-19 many additional patients are seeking obesity treatment, I would like to again expand upon our specialty.

Obesity medicine specialist:

  • Has expertise in the subspecialty of obesity medicine. This subspecialty requires competency in and a thorough understanding of the treatment of obesity and the genetic, biologic, environmental, social, and behavioral factors contributing to obesity.
  • Employs therapeutic interventions including diet, physical activity, behavioral change, and pharmacotherapy
  • Utilizes a comprehensive approach, and might include additional resources such as nutritionists, exercise physiologists, mental health professionals and bariatric surgeons, as indicated to achieve optimal results
  • Maintains competency in providing pre-, peri-, and postsurgical care of bariatric surgery patients
  • Promotes the prevention of obesity, and advocates for those who suffer from obesity
  • Helps to improve the patient experience and quality of care

Another common question is, “How does an OMS fit into our surgical practice?” I see us working like any other “surgical–medical” physician team, like the cardiologist and the cardiothoracic surgeon or the medical oncologist and the oncologic surgeon. The OMS and the metabolic surgeon can provide exceptional care to patients seeking long-term and durable surgical treatments for their obesity and associated medical problems.

Some examples how we can align with surgical practices might include the following:

  • Expands the range of available obesity treatment options, especially for patients who do not meet criteria for metabolic and bariatric surgery
  • Provides continued counseling for patients who express interest in surgery but are not fully committed 
  • Provides nutritional and exercise counseling
  • Prescribes and monitors weight-loss medications
  • Expedites preoperative medical assessments for optimizing patient’s comorbidities
  • Complete “softer” system clearances; therefore, specific specialty evaluations may be avoided 
  • Provides routine postoperative follow-up visits, allowing surgeons to concentrate more appropriately on duties in the operating room
  • Evaluates patients with weight regain  

Our specialty has really grown in recent years. Much of this growth goes to the establishment of an Obesity Medicine Certifying exam. The American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM) certifying exam was established in 2013. Moreover, with the establishment of the Obesity Medicine Fellowship council, more and more fellowshipped trained OMS are graduating each year. This board certification is open to all physicians—even surgeons—who possess an interest and demonstrated proficiencies in obesity. Like Dr. Morton, more and more surgeons are certifying each year.

I hope I have adequately described what Obesity Medicine Specialists do and might have sparked your interested in recruiting or collaborating with an OMS. More information can be obtained from www.ABOM.org. If I can answer any questions about this specialty or how an OMS might work in your practice or institution, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Be well,

Christopher D. Still, DO, FACN, FACP.  

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