- White House Doctor Sean Conley has been President Trump’s doctor since 2018. On Saturday, he declined to answer several questions about Trump’s health.
- Conley is the first president’s doctor who is not a doctor or MD. He is an osteopathic doctor, or DO.
- Conley prescribed hydroxychloroquine, a once hyped coronavirus treatment, to Trump in May. There is no scientific evidence that the drug reduces the severity of symptoms or prevents COVID-19.
- Learn more about Conley’s history as the President’s Doctor, medical education, and qualifications.
- You can find more stories on the Business Insider homepage.
Since President Trump announced his COVID-1
After a press conference Saturday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he failed to answer some basic questions about Trump’s condition – including whether the president needed supplemental oxygen – Conley among other doctors raised his eyebrows.
“Many clinicians who listened to the news were really surprised at the lack of transparency, a kind of disorganized presentation of clinical information. It was obscure and not logical and not easy to follow,” said Peter Chin-Hong, professor of specialist Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the University of California at San Francisco, Business Insider said.
This raised questions about Conley’s qualifications, especially after the doctor agreed to Trump taking the unproven coronavirus drug hydroxychloroquine in May.
“I think there was some disagreement that many people have wondered about. For example, the embrace of hydroxychloroquine when the first time the president took it, I think a lot of clinicians wouldn’t,” Chin said -Hong added.
Here’s what you should know about Conley’s medical education and how he became Trump’s doctor.
He has an extensive military history
According to Conley’s LinkedIn profile, he’s been with the US Navy since 2006. However, the schedule for Conley’s medical training is more complicated.
After completing his Bachelor of Science degree from Notre Dame University, Conley graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
He then completed three years of medical training at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, before being admitted to a NATO hospital in Afghanistan for seven months.
Conley returned to Portsmouth in 2014 and then held various roles at the Naval Medical Center before joining the White House staff four years later.
Dr. Ronny Jackson, a retired Rear Admiral in the Navy who served as the President’s doctor from 2013 to 2018, selected Conley to succeed him, NBC News reported.
Two anonymous sources told NBC News in May that many White House medical staff had viewed Conley as wrongly promoted to doctor without proper verification.
Conley is the first DO to serve as the presidential doctor
Conley doesn’t have an MD or doctor of medicine like Jackson.
Instead, Conley graduated with a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, or DO, and appears to be the first DO to serve as the President’s Doctor since Congress established the position in 1982.
The focus of a DO is to emphasize a “whole body” approach that deals with holistic medicine and disease prevention to treat patient diseases rather than isolating specific symptoms.
Unlike naturopaths, however, they are licensed by the same state agencies as doctors, have almost identical training, and can prescribe medication and treat patients in all 50 states.
In the past, DOs may offer manual treatment of muscles and joints (known as osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT), while MDs usually refer patients to a physical therapist or prescribe medication. Lately, lines of treatment have been blurring as MDs are currently being trained in a full body approach and using more DOT on visits.
But Chin-Hong said concerns about the nature of Conley’s medical degree were unfounded: “This is no time to argue about MD versus DO.”
DOs receive the same amount of education as MDs: they take the prep courses as students, take the MCAT exam, and attend medical school for four years before completing a multi-year residency program.
DO degrees include an additional 200 hours of coursework beyond the general medical school curriculum that focuses on muscles and nerves to learn how to do OMT.
These massage techniques help DOs diagnose any disease or injury, and enable doctors to help their patients’ bodies heal themselves. In contrast, doctors are studying allopathic medicine, which is based on treating certain symptoms with their remedies.
“In the past, people might have come up with ideas about MD versus DO, but I would say in modern medicine, at least in San Francisco, it’s pretty indistinguishable when they match your peers,” he said.
That being said, Chin-Hong said there are aspects of Conley’s recent medical track record that are worrying.
A controversial coronavirus treatment
In May, Conley released a memorandum confirming that he had approved Trump’s use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure against COVID-19 after the president touted it as a pandemic “game changer”.
“After much discussion he and I had over the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine, we concluded that the potential benefits of treatment outweigh the relative risk,” wrote Conley.
Experts like Chin-Hong viewed Conley’s move with skepticism.
“By the time President Trump took the first course of hydroxychloroquine, there was already ample evidence – and now there is more – that there were no benefits, in fact there was a lot of potential harm from arrhythmia or other adverse effects,” said Chin-Hong.
Trump’s support for hydroxychloroquine, a drug for malaria, began in March when a French study suggested it might be effective against the coronavirus and the drug received emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Later, the journal that published the results suggested that the study was poorly conducted.
In the months that followed, several studies showed that the drug did not prevent coronavirus infections or reduce the severity of symptoms in people recently exposed to the virus.
One month after Trump’s 10-day treatment with hydroxychloroquine, the FDA revoked the drug’s emergency approval because there was no evidence that the drug was effective.
The National Institutes of Health also discourages the use of hydroxychloroquine in their guidelines for treating coronavirus.
A press conference went wrong
Conley held a briefing on Saturday for the first time since Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis. But in this he escaped many critical questions. He wouldn’t say if Trump had been given supplemental oxygen at any point, when the president last tested negative, or what temperature his fever reached.
While Conley answered the first of these three questions during a subsequent press conference on Sunday morning, the fact remains that it is difficult to discern important details about the president’s condition.
“Traditionally, when the presidents are sick, the public actually gets a lot of information about the country’s leader,” Chin-Hong said. “Because it has to do with the security of the country, whether we feel safe that our country is being governed at the right time with the right structure.”
According to Chin-Hong, who has looked after COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic, Conley failed to do so on Saturday when he reached out to reporters avoiding questions about what Trump’s helicopter ride to the Walter Reed National Military was Medical Center.
“I think probably the most noticeable absence was dancing around discussing oxygen needs. The reporters kept asking him about oxygen and trying to get more specific. But he kept coming back to the point that he was out of oxygen said Chin-Hong.
Blood oxygen levels can help report serious cases even before a person has developed severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath. They can also signal patients when it is time to go to the hospital.
But part of Conley’s vagueness about Trump’s health could be due to pressure from his patient, Chin-Hong said.
“The speaker is only as good as the person he is speaking for. When there is pressure to say certain things and not to say certain things, that could be part of the game too,” he said.