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What is a D.O.?

"D.O." means Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and is used by Osteopathic physicians.

General Overview

Osteopathic medicine is practiced by D.O.s in the United States. Andrew Taylor Still, an M.D. who was dissatisfied with the effectiveness of 19th century medicine, pioneered osteopathic medicine. Osteopathic medicine was developed in 1874 by Dr. Andrew T. Still, M.D., D.O. who stated "Any variation from health has a cause, and the cause has a location. It is the business of the osteopathic physician to locate and remove it, doing away with the disease and getting healthy instead." He believed that many medications (at that time) were useless and even harmful. He identified the musculoskeletal system as a key component for good health.

  • Both D.O.s and M.D.s typically have a four year undergraduate degree prior to medical training.
  • Both D.O.s and M.D.s have spent four-years in medical education. Both take the MCAT and are subject to a rigorous application process. Historically, D.O. schools are more open to the non-traditional candidate.
  • D.O.s, like M.D.s, choose to practice in a specialty area of medicine and complete a residency program ranging from 3-7 years. Some D.O.s complete the same residency programs as their M.D. counterparts.
  • M.D. students take the USMLE exam and D.O. students take the COMLEX exam. Both must pass a state licensing examination to practice medicine.
  • D.O.s perform surgery, deliver children, treat patients, prescribe medications and work in the same settings as M.D.s. D.O.s use the same tools, treatments and technologies of medicine as M.D.s.
  • D.O.s receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system, which make up the nerves, muscles and bones of a person.

The main difference between the two types of physicians is that D.O.s have been specially trained to perform osteopathic manipulations on patients. They view the patient as a 'total person" and focus on preventative care. They view the whole body rather than treat specific symptoms or illness. D.O.s use Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) in their practice. This involves the use of their hands to diagnose injury and illness and to encourage your body's natural ability to heal. Osteopathic medicine is a fast-growing segment of the United States healthcare field.

The DO Difference

DOs are complete physicians who, along with MDs, are licensed to prescribe medication and perform surgery in all 50 states. But DOs bring something extra to the practice of medicine. Osteopathic physicians practice a "whole person" approach to medicine, treating the entire person rather that just the symptoms. With a focus on preventive health care, DOs help patients develop attitudes and lifestyles that don't just fight illness, but help prevent it, too.

DOs are trained to be doctors first, and specialists second. The majority of DOs are family-oriented primary care physicians. Many DOs practice in small towns and rural areas, where they often care for entire families and communities.

History of Osteopathic Medicine

Andrew T. Still, an MD who was dissatisfied with the effectiveness of 19th century medicine, pioneered osteopathic medicine. He was one of the first in his time to study the attributes of good health to better understand disease. Dr. Still's philosophy focuses on the unity of all body parts and identifies the musculoskeletal system as a key element of health. He introduced the idea of returning the body to health through manipulation based on a thorough understanding of the body's systems.

In 1892, Dr. Still obtained a state charter to establish the first school of osteopathic medicine in Missouri. Despite a legislative attack on the osteopathic profession mounted by allopathic physicians (MDs), osteopathic medicine grew. Vermont was the first state to recognize osteopathic medicine in 1896. In 1897, the American Association for Advancement of Osteopathy (now the American Osteopathic Association) was founded in Kirksville, Missouri. Now, there are 19 schools of osteopathic medicine in the country.

Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine

DOs receive extra training in manipulating the musculoskeletal system - your body's interconnected system of nerves, muscles and bones that make up two-thirds of your body mass. This training in osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) provides osteopathic physicians with a better understanding of how an injury or illness in one part of the body can affect another.

OMM is incorporated into the training of all osteopathic physicians. With OMM, DOs use their hands to diagnose injury and illness and to encourage your body's natural tendency toward good health. By combining all other medical procedures with OMM, DOs offer their patients the most comprehensive care available in medicine today.

Osteopathic Curriculum

The osteopathic curriculum involves four years of academic study, with an emphasis on preventive medicine and holistic patient care. DOs serve a one-year internship, gaining hands-on experience in family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics-gynecology, pediatrics and surgery. This experience ensures that osteopathic physicians are first trained as primary care physicians - even if they plan to pursue a specialty. Many DOs then complete a residency program in a specialty area, which typically requires two to six years of additional training.