What is a D.O.?

Osteopathic Medicine was developed in 1874 by Dr. A.T. Still (an M.D.) who was dismayed by the state of "modern medicine" when his family died from illness. He believed that many medications (at that time) were useless and even harmful.

Looking for answers, he studied the body to discover that the body’s structure and function were interrelated. By manipulating the spine (improving structure), the nerves and arteries were allowed to function properly (restoring function).

Osteopathic Medicine (practiced by a D.O.) differs in philosophy and practical application as compared to Allopathic Medicine (practiced by a M.D.). Rather than reacting to symptoms or illness, D.O.s are trained to focus on optimizing the relationship between mind, body and spirit to achieve wellness and thus prevent illness (holistic approach).

Furthermore, utilizing the techniques invented by Dr. Still, D.O.s use their hands to assist in diagnosing and treating patients to allow their body's inherent healing processes to occur.

The difference between theory subscription and application can be great, however. There are certainly some D.O.s who do not utilize manipulative medicine and are out of touch with patients. There are some M.D.s who are quite attune to optimizing health and acknowledge the benefit of alternative therapies.

The main consideration for any patient should really be whether the physician is someone who can be trusted with the care of that patient and his/her family.

Technical comparison between D.O.s and M.D.s:

  1. Both D.O.s and M.D.s typically have a four year undergraduate degree prior to medical training.
  2. 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.
  3. During the four years in medical school, D.O.s receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system. This allows them to perform Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy in an effort to improve function, reduce dysfunction, and/or decrease pain.
  4. 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.
  5. Both D.O.s and M.D.s, choose to practice in a specialty area of medicine and complete a residency program ranging from 3-7 years. Many D.O.s complete the same residency programs and take the same national board examinations as their M.D. counterparts.
  6. Both D.O.s and M.D.s perform surgery, deliver children, treat patients, and prescribe medications. They both use the same tools, treatments and technologies of medicine. D.O.s have the added benefit of being able to utilize Osteopathic Manipulation to treat patients.

The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) states that: "Because of this whole-person approach to medicine, approximately 60 percent of all D.O.s choose to practice in the primary care disciplines of family practice, general internal medicine and pediatrics. Approximately 40 percent of all D.O.s go on to specialize in a wide range of practice areas. If the medical specialty exists, you will find D.O.s there.

While America’s 47,000 D.O.s account for only 5 percent of the country’s physicians, they handle approximately 10 percent of all primary care visits. D.O.s also have a strong history of serving rural and underserved areas, often providing their unique brand of compassionate, patient-centered care to some of the most economically disadvantaged members of society."