Alum John Barson looks back at his father's legacy, his journey with the school
Thursday, March 24, 2022
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In OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine’s 50-year history, no one has quite the same perspective as Dr. John V. Barson.
His father, John W. Barson, was the founding president of the institution, which was established as the Oklahoma College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in 1972. Four years later he was a medical student at the same school where his father was president.
“That was interesting. I was held to a pretty high standard. Nobody was going to give me a break, so I had to make sure I performed at a high level,” he said. “As time went along my classmates accepted me and we worked together well. After a while that difference disappeared.”
In fact, Barson said because of his unique position as student and son of the president he was able to bridge some of the communication gaps between students and the faculty and administration.
“Me coming to the school, it was a bit of a mixed blessing for my parents. They were proud of me, but also worried how that would be perceived by people, so I had to get in on my own abilities,” he said. “My brother went to the University of Oklahoma medical school because he didn’t want to be where our father was, but the D.O. program was what I wanted. I knew my father and the type of program he and his team were developing and that was very important to me.”
Barson was in the third class of medical students accepted to OCOMS. During his second year of medical school the new campus at 17th Street and Southwest Boulevard opened.
“Being one of those first classes, it was quite an experience. We were breaking ground with everything we did,” he said.
And Barson and his fellow students were fulfilling the school’s mission to provide health care to rural and underserved Oklahoma.
We’d go out to these small towns and their clinics, hospitals and doctor’s offices,
and people were just excited to be part of this. They gave us all sorts of experiences
that I’m not sure a lot of students at other medical schools had.
We’d go out to these small towns and their clinics, hospitals and doctor’s offices, and people were just excited to be part of this. They gave us all sorts of experiences that I’m not sure a lot of students at other medical schools had.
“The towns would welcome us. I had classmates say ‘I didn’t cook dinner the entire month I was there because everyone invited me to dinner.’ We would go to the local café and people would say ‘Hi Doc’ and they meant it, even though we were medical students, we were their doctor. That was exciting.”
The clinics and hospitals were just as excited.
“They were thrilled to have us around, the hospitals just loved having us there, the doctors and nursing staff. The people we ran into out there were absolutely fantastic,” he said.
After graduating, Barson went into aerospace medicine and served as a flight surgeon and took part in aviation medical research as well.
“I got great experiences in the military. I had the chance to learn a whole variety of things, not just medicine,” he said. “I learned how to coordinate people, how to write deployment plans, develop and manage budgets, I did research with the military.”
Later in his career Barson served as the CDC’s medical officer in the Division of Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response and deputy regional flight surgeon for the Federal Aviation Administration.
“Being a D.O. prepared me for a lot of things I did,” he said. “All along, the osteopathic principles I learned of how to assess risk and get down to the root cause of things were very important to what I was doing and being able to become an expert in various fields.”
In the four decades since his graduation, a lot has changed at his alma mater including the name. The medical school joined Oklahoma State University in April 1988 and became the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“I was really pleased when Oklahoma State came in. They were a dynamic school, and they were on the move. As I’ve watched the school develop over the years, it was the right thing to do and Oklahoma State has been a dynamic partner in all this and making it happen,” he said.
Even though he now lives in Georgia, Barson has returned to OSU-COM several times since graduating including the opening of the A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Medical Academic Building in 2017 and the OSU-COM 50th Birthday Party in March.
“Every time I come back, I’m just amazed, the place gets better all the time. I’m
really impressed with the facilities and meeting the people who are working here and
realizing the high caliber of faculty and staff. I wish we had those things when I
was in medical school,” he said. “I’m thrilled they’ve not stood still, they’ve progressed
The school’s founding president passed away in 2006 but Barson said he thinks his father would be ecstatic to see how OSU-COM has grown and evolved in 50 years.
“This was the dream he had. I think he would feel very fortunate that there are so many people now who share that dream and are taking it even further,” he said, and it’s a feeling shared by his son. “I’m very happy. I feel the dream my parents had has been fulfilled a hundred times over, and I’m really happy that I’m a part of it. I wish they were here to see it, and I will keep coming back to witness what happens next.”