Before she became an osteopathic physician, Deborah Schmidt, D.O., wore many hats: She worked at various times as a heavy-equipment operator, a shrimp factory employee, an asparagus sorter, a waitress and an exercise instructor, among other jobs.
Now, Schmidt, who chairs the Department of Osteopathic Principles and Practice (OPP) at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM), can add one more title to her long resume. She was listed as one of the year’s “West Virginia Wonder Women” by WV Living magazine.
Schmidt is one of 50 women profiled in the publication’s fall 2021 issue for “raising the bar in their communities, serving as beacons of light in their industries and forcing change for the greater good.” She said she is pleased to be among those the magazine chose to highlight in its annual special issue.
“It’s quite an honor to be recognized among the many wonderful women who are changing the face of West Virginia,” Schmidt said. “It’s great to be in the company of such a variety of unique people, and it’s especially important because our state has a lot of natural talent that has been unrecognized. We need to be proud of who we are.”
Schmidt, the daughter of a U.S. Air Force pilot and a Greenbrier County teacher, realized she was interested in medicine while seeing a military physician in the early 1960s, when career opportunities for women were limited.
“I was 8 years old and sick with pneumonia, and the doctor was doing a chest X-ray and drawing blood,” she said. “I’d always been a curious person who enjoyed taking things apart and investigating, and I said, ‘I think I might like to do this someday.’ He said, ‘You can’t. You’re a girl.’ I looked at him and said, ‘I’m as smart as you are, and I think I can.’”
That curiosity powered much of Schmidt’s subsequent life. She graduated from Ohio State University with a pre-medicine degree at age 20, two years ahead of her peers, and spent three years hitchhiking across the United States to learn about the country and its people, working a variety of jobs along the way.
It was that same curiosity that brought her to osteopathic medicine, where physicians learn to supplement standard medical care with the use of osteopathic manipulative treatment to diagnose, treat and prevent illness. She was accepted at both the West Virginia University School of Medicine and WVSOM, and chose the osteopathic medical school because she wanted to continue to work with her hands.
Schmidt earned her medical degree in 1988. After completing a family medicine residency at Community Hospital in Lancaster, Pa., and working at community health centers in Colorado, South Carolina and Virginia, she returned to Lewisburg and began teaching at WVSOM as a part-time clinical instructor in 1999. The following year, she co-founded a medical practice with her husband and another partner in downtown Lewisburg that later moved to Covington, Va. She became a full-time WVSOM faculty member in 2010.
As a professor and chair of WVSOM’s OPP department, Schmidt is responsible for developing the school’s osteopathic principles and practice curriculum and ensuring the faculty has the resources to deliver it. She also continues to teach not only first- and second-year students on the school’s Lewisburg campus, but third- and fourth-year students in the school’s Statewide Campus system.
Schmidt is a member of the West Virginia Board of Acupuncture and has been involved in training members of approved health professions to perform the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) protocol, a form of acupuncture in which needles are placed into specific areas on the exterior of the ear. The protocol, in conjunction with other treatments, can reduce drug cravings and minimize withdrawal symptoms. Schmidt said ear acupuncture also can be used in non-addicted patients to improve sleep, decrease anxiety and ease symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Since 2019, a total of 102 West Virginia health care professionals have been trained in the protocol, largely due to Schmidt’s efforts.
WVSOM President James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., praised Schmidt for being named a West Virginia Wonder Woman.
“Dr. Schmidt has played a tremendous role in educating our students about the value of osteopathic manipulative treatment and in training them to properly perform it,” he said. “She’s an integral member of WVSOM’s osteopathic faculty, and I’m thrilled that WV Living has taken note of her achievements and is celebrating her along with so many accomplished women from around our great state.”
Schmidt is one of four Greenbrier County women selected for this lineup of West Virginia Wonder Women. Others include Lynn Benedict, a member of the American Dairy Goat Association’s board of directors; the Rev. Betsy Walker, priest of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., and Church of the Incarnation in Ronceverte, W.Va.; and Beverly White, mayor of Lewisburg.
WV Living will honor the recipients at an in-person West Virginia Wonder Women event on Nov. 30 in South Charleston, W.Va.