The first officially recognized osteopathic physician in Finland is a TCOM graduate
The practice of osteopathic medicine is rising across the globe and so is its recognition. Dr. Mia D. Eriksson, a 2020 graduate of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, recently became the first licensed and recognized osteopathic physician in Finland.
After nearly a decade-long journey to Fort Worth, and then back to her native country, Eriksson has achieved a dream of her own, while also breaking more barriers and opening doors for osteopathy to thrive overseas.
Valvira, the central administrative agency of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in Finland, along with the American Osteopathic Association in the United States, has no record of any osteopathic physicians licensed to practice in the country, making Eriksson the first.
“It’s a very scary thought and those are very big shoes to fill, being the first of anything, but I just keep my head down and concentrate on doing the work,” Eriksson said.
Eriksson’s path from Finland to Fort Worth and then back to Finland was wrought with twists and turns. She first came to Fort Worth in 2005 as a high school exchange student and then returned in 2012 to pursue her undergraduate degree at Texas Christian University. Medicine was in her DNA, though. Her mother is a neurologist, her father practices internal and family medicine and she has various aunts and uncles in medicine.
“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor,” Eriksson said. “What was funny was my younger brother when he was 10 asked, ‘Does everyone have to become a doctor when they grow up?’ My parents always encouraged me to look at other options and don’t get into medicine just because they did.”
At TCU, she heard a lot about TCOM with the proximity of the schools being so close, but Eriksson also liked what she saw and heard about the school.
“In undergrad, the more I learned about TCOM and osteopathic medicine, it just sounded like the logical way to do things,” she said. “In Finland, the approach is preventative medicine, and the focus is on the whole person. I didn’t know a lot about osteopathic medicine until a few years before I applied to TCOM, but I haven’t regretted applying to TCOM a single day of my life.”
U.S. DOs are trained as fully licensed physicians, but with osteopathic medicine not being common in Finland, Eriksson had to win over her parents, who were skeptical at first. In some countries around the globe, DO training is concentrated on osteopathic manipulative medicine, and practice rights are typically limited to manipulation.
“It was the stereotypical things that most people just don’t understand,” Eriksson said. “The osteopathic manipulative medicine was something they just thought I could forget and not use, but I really love it and it’s an extra tool and skill that I’m grateful to have.”
Eriksson was accepted into TCOM in 2016 and began her way through medical school. As Eriksson neared graduation in 2020, Match Day also loomed for her. What specialty would she apply for? Since she was not a U.S. citizen and was in the country as a student, landing a residency was going to be difficult. That didn’t stop her from applying for a surgery residency.
“I wanted to stay in the United States, and I knew that if I applied for a surgery residency, that it was going to be very risky,” Eriksson said. “There were a lot of things going against me because I knew not being a U.S. resident would require a visa, and that’s a little bit of a red flag.”
Eriksson knew the risks, and the results came back. She didn’t match.
“I gave it a shot and it didn’t work out, but I was still preparing to see how I could move forward,” Eriksson said. “A lot of things were going on at that time, COVID had just started to spread, and I had realistically given up on finding a job in the U.S. I had spent most of my adult life there, so it took some time to get used to the idea that I had to move back to Finland.”
After moving back home to Finland, Eriksson began doing research and then working on a Ph.D. while beginning the laborious work of proving her medical education in America was valid.
Valvira, the governing body, required Eriksson to provide paperwork validating her education, and then she was required to do six months of rotations under supervision. The physician she worked under then wrote a letter confirming her skills, and then it was onto a language test before taking exams. She took a written exam about medicine and patient cases and how to respond. A second exam regarding laws pertaining to medicine and how to write prescriptions. A third exam followed that involved patient encounters, but with real patients.
Eriksson, under physician supervision, had to show her knowledge by seeing actual patients and demonstrating her competency. In addition, letters from TCOM’s senior associate dean of Academic Affairs, Dr. Ryan Seals, and the AOA were sent in support of and explaining that DOs in America were fully licensed physicians.
“TCOM prepared me so well for the procedures I had to do,” Eriksson said. “I didn’t feel like I had to relearn anything because the amount of work in the U.S. was so practical. Most of my colleagues who graduated around the same time don’t have the same type of experience that I have.”
Three years later, Dr. Mia Eriksson was the first fully licensed osteopathic physician in her homeland of Finland, while she also finished up her Ph.D. Eriksson can practice what would be the equivalent of primary care. She is currently seeing patients ranging from kids to seniors and performing small procedures as well, but she’s not done dreaming.
Eriksson’s passion to be a surgeon hasn’t ebbed. She’s applied to a general surgery residency in Finland with the goal of becoming a breast cancer surgeon someday. Whether she gets the residency or not, what Eriksson has accomplished for herself and osteopathic medicine is remarkable itself.
“It is exciting to see how Dr. Eriksson has allowed Finland to learn about osteopathic medicine in the United States and her education at TCOM prepared her to become licensed there,” said Dr. Seals. “Hopefully, even more, osteopathic physicians will have the opportunity to practice there in the future.”
Finland does have schools of osteopathy, some of which are held in high regard, others however struggle to fight the lack of understanding of osteopathic medicine.
Eriksson’s breakthrough could help change that perception, while she is also able to do what she loves the most.
‘I’m very happy,” Eriksson said. “But when I started and first moved back to Finland, with the year between medical school, it was very hard. I knew that I checked everything out, but there was always that chance that they could have said no, we aren’t accepting your education. But that little voice in the back of my head kept believing.”