Greg Christiansen might have gone into farming if it hadn’t been for his then-girlfriend, who suggested that he consider medical school after college. That suggestion led to him becoming a doctor of osteopathic medicine, and set him on a career path that led to his role as dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Des Moines University, a position that he began on Dec. 1. He previously was chair and assistant professor of emergency medicine at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., where he was also director of the medical school’s simulation and ultrasound labs and medical director of the physician assistant program. Christiansen has been on the board of directors of the American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians since 2001 and was president of the organization from 2011 to 2013. 
 
How did your girlfriend influence you to go into medicine? 
She simply said I should be a physician and move away from a food industry major. I took her up on the suggestion two years later after finishing college early and went into medical school following the stock market crash in ’87. So I married her, and she has been my best friend for over 30 years. 
 
Why osteopathic medicine? 
I had volunteered at a hospital while I was in college; I did it more as a service project, not really expecting to go into medicine. They had a program for students so they could see all the specialties of medicine. I took advantage of that and really liked the emergency medicine space the best. In that, I was exposed to the D.O. concept and really liked it. They spurred me on to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. 
 
What’s unique about osteopathic medicine? 
Osteopathic medicine is a philosophy; it’s a perspective about how to perform medical services, and it’s a mind-body-spirit component. (Osteopathy’s founder, Dr. A.T. Still,) believed it was a matter of bringing those together to bring the body back to homeostasis. That was an amazing philosophy because at that time medicine was all about focusing on the disease, and not the patient. That cultural thinking has gone all the way through to this day. … Osteopathic medicine utilized women very early in its training model. … And it considered family medicine as the primary component, and specialties were to be used after the generalist.   

How does the College of Osteopathic Medicine fit into DMU as a whole? 
It’s the largest college within the DMU model. In our model, the student is taught as a generalist first, so that they can have the perspective of all the entities that are required for medical care. And that’s very important, because when they go out into practice they need to understand the perspective of the patient and the care that they need. If the student then chooses to go into a specialty, they at least have that understanding of how the medical system works. There’s a danger if you become siloed in your training too early; you become so focused that you lose touch to what that patient is going through. 

What’s the college’s enrollment and its makeup? 
We take a class of about 220 students a year. The class is generally a mix of 50 percent male and female seeking to learn the craft of osteopathic medicine. We’re very focused on the diversity opportunities, but most focused on the patient care aspects and how the patient is the primacy of our development. In looking at the student body, we really are looking for folks who can understand professional development and who are willing to serve their patients, because this is a vocation and not a job. 
 
What are the highlights of your first six months at DMU? 
Some of the things that are really wonderful are the faculty; they’re very skilled, they’re very focused on producing the best physicians. The administrative staff are likewise very talented, gifted people focused on improving medical care in the community. So they want people to have the best health and they’re doing everything they possibly can to give the community the best physicians possible. That’s very attractive to be able to work in that environment. 
 
What’s your leadership style? 
I tend to take a principled approach. I grew up in a very challenged environment and I was very successful. I think students learn a lot about themselves as they go through the medical training environment. One of the things that’s very challenging for students is how much they have to learn about themselves. … The spirit part (of mind-body-spirit), we’re just learning about, so it’s very important that students learn the totality of spiritualism. For me, faith is extremely important, because you cannot practice medicine for any period of time and not be able to see that there’s something greater than yourself. … There is a divine purpose for why we do the things that we do. 
 
What are your initial goals? 
The neat thing about medicine is that it’s always changing, and you have to be able to adapt. We’re looking at our curriculum, and we’re developing a curriculum to be more adaptive. … We’re working to streamline and have more efficiency in patients’ medical care. Therefore we’re using ultrasound, so they can augment some of that decision-making and improve their diagnostic acumen, and potentially be able to save that patient the multiple visits to multiple people and give them more efficient and accurate care. So that’s taking place in a team environment, and that’s sort of new for medicine. 
 
Are you bringing your interest in emergency medicine to this position? 
We have some emergency medicine physicians already on staff who are teaching. I bring a varied group of expertise to it — I’m very much into the informatics and the evidence-based medicine aspects. We are really focused on training physicians of the future, because the information that we teach today will be obsolete in a very short period of time. It’s even projected that our instructors will be teaching information that by the time the students finish the course, the information will have already turned over. So that requires a different dynamic, a different way of teaching. We have to improve our educational efficiency to make sure we meet the workforce needs. 
 
What’s a medical school’s role in controlling health care costs?  
I think our focus is really making physicians the best-trained product they can be, because medicine is going to change. As long as the patient comes first, then we’ll be able to care for our patients. If we have processes where the patient doesn’t come first, then we have an issue. 
 
What special interests do you have outside of your profession? 
While I was in North Carolina I really enjoyed kayak fly fishing out in the ocean, because you never know what might be lurking around you. I’ve had sharks actually hit the boat; I’ve had seven-foot tiger sharks come right up to me, so you can see anything while you’re out there. In this area it’s been fun because there are enough semi-wilderness areas we really enjoy. I think I’ve seen just about every little critter I’d want to see without having to go to Yellowstone Park. I have two Chesapeake retrievers I bred myself — Montana and Sedona — who love to retrieve, fish and swim all day.