2012 Lifetime Achievement Award

October 16, 2012

The father of osteopathic medicine, A.T. Still, couldn’t have dreamed how far the profession he founded in 1885 would progress, and of all the extraordinary people who would dedicate a lifetime of service to the betterment of their patients and the profession.  Howard L. Neer, DO, a 2005 A.T. Still Memorial Lecturer, is one such person.

Dr. Neer, 83, has selflessly given nearly 60 years of wisdom, diplomacy and dedication to serve as a leader, physician, educator, mentor and visionary -- ensuring the growth and recognition of the osteopathic profession through the first century of its existence, and beyond.
 
Throughout his career, Dr. Neer, a past AOA president who graduated from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1954, used his extraordinary leadership skills to overcome adversity the profession faced as it gained mainstream acceptance in the mid-to-late 20th century, helping organize other osteopathic professionals to make a difference at the local and national levels.  
 
Fresh off his internship at Grandview Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, Dr. Neer was called before the U.S. Army Draft Board in 1955 and volunteered to serve as physician, but was refused--because the military didn’t commission DOs as medical officers at the time.   He was able to defer if he went to practice in the U.S. where there was no physician in a 10 mile radius.  That’s when he found a small town in Florida that met the criteria. 
 
When he opened his family practice in Plantation, Fla. in 1956, he and his peers faced discrimination from allopathic physicians and mainstream insurance companies.  So in 1962, he helped co-found an osteopathic hospital, Doctors General Hospital in Plantation, where he served on the Board of Trustees until 1986, including four terms as chairman. 
The hospital had an uphill battle in the 1960s—especially with funding, as it had trouble gaining full acceptance, and therefore payment, from insurance companies. To keep the hospital afloat, Dr. Neer and the other physicians raised money through public bonds, lending their own money and even donating all the fees they collected from working in the ER for 24 hour shifts.
 
Eventually gaining its footing, the hospital was later renamed Universal Medical Center in 1986, and then Florida Medical Center South Hospital in 1995. Dr. Neer served as chairman of the board from 1993 to 1997, as well leading and/or serving on a number of hospital committees.  
 
His leadership extended well beyond the hospital walls.  When the largest national malpractice insurer said it would no longer cover DOs in 1976, Dr. Neer helped found a medical liability insurance company for osteopathic physicians called the Florida Physicians Insurance Trust to fill the void. Between 1976 and 1991 he served as the Trust’s chairman of the board of directors for all but one year.
 
He continued to provide leadership and protection for the profession, co-founding the American Citadel Malpractice Insurer, the Osteopathic Mutual Insurance Co-Risk Retention Group (OMIC) and the Gulf Atlantic Insurance Co.  He was chairman of the board of the American Citadel from 1985 to 1988 and served OMIC as its secretary treasurer and as the chairman of its underwriting committee from 1989 to 1992.  He was chairman of the board for Gulf Atlantic from 1980 to 1998. 
 
Dr. Neer also has provided leadership at osteopathic professional associations nationally and locally. He was a member of the AOA Board of Trustees from 1986 to 1996, the AOA president in 1995-96 and a member of the President’s Advisory Council for several years.  He was an AOF board member for six years, and chairman from 1999 to 2001. He was the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association’s president from 1976-77, a trustee from 1968 to 1995 and has represented the Sunshine State at the AOA House of Delegates since 1970.  Since 1993, Dr. Neer has been an associate dean for alumni affairs at the Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine (NSUCOM), and a professor of family practice since 1991. He also is a member of the board of governors for the school’s health division and its foundation.  
 
Dr. Neer has received numerous awards and recognition during his career including: the Lifetime Achievement Award and Physician of the Year from the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association,  The AOA Distinguished Service Certificate, the Horizon Award from the AOF and the Donald McBath Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Society of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians. He is a Fellow in the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians and an Honorary Fellow in the American College of Osteopathic Internists.
 
As president of the AOA, he aimed to educate and activate members of the profession to tackle the problems created by the encroachment of managed care, and help protect physician autonomy. He ignited a grassroots movement by encouraging members to talk to their legislators.  He wanted to educate the government about the role of osteopathic medicine in the nation, and during his tenure as AOA president, he met with Donna Shalala, then the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  He met with more than 25 federal agencies with direct influence on healthcare issues and increased recognition of osteopathic medicine in Washington, DC.
 
Dr. Neer has worked hard to gain equality for osteopathic physicians, and today, the profession is recognized and respected by the government, press and public.  Many osteopathic physicians are serving on healthcare committees on federal and state levels of government, and belong to and chair departments of many large hospitals and serve in large allopathic clinics such as the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic.  DOs are now commissioned as physicians in the armed forces.
 
During his inaugural address as president-elect of the AOA, Dr. Neer said in 1995, “DOs must be unified, involved and proactive to ensure that the osteopathic medical profession continues to occupy its rightful place in the nation’s healthcare system.”  Seventeen years later, this sentiment still rings true.
 
Please join the AOF in recognizing and celebrating Dr. Neer for his many contributions during his life, and doing his part—and then some—to bring the profession to where it is today. A.T. Still surely would be proud, and say, “job well done.” Thank you Dr. Neer, for being a true pioneer and paving the path for a brighter future for the profession and the patients we serve.
Howard L. Neer, DO
AOA and AOF Past President, Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine