Full Body Physician

My Doctor Has A “DO,” What Is That?

I am honored to have @DrJonathan, a Family Medicine resident from Chicago, guest blogging this week for Medical Education Monday on what exactly a “DO” degree is. After receiving questions on Twitter from two separate people asking if it was “ok” to continue seeing their physician who had a “DO” degree, I knew it was time for this post. Before applying to medical school I truly had no idea there were two types of physicians in the United States and it was interesting to me to learn about Osteopathic degrees. @DrJonathan graduated with his degree in Osteopathic medicine this semester and is now attending residency. Today he has written a wonderful article about DOs geared towards info useful to the general public and next time he will be explaining the differences in licensing and training for students who may be trying to decide between the two paths into medicine! He is a superb writer, you won’t be disappointed.


What Is Osteopathic Medicine?

    Despite all the different types of medical professions in America, a physician is the most universally recognized medical profession. Most people associate the word “physician” with an individual who has an MD (Doctor of Medicine). Although most physicians are MDs, they only account for a portion of medical doctors in America. The other type of fully licensed medical doctor in the US is the Osteopathic Physician (DO). Currently, there are over 80,000 practicing Osteopathic Physicians in the United States. They account for almost 10% of all practicing physicians and nearly 20% of current medical students are in Osteopathic medical schools. Osteopathic physicians can be found in any medical field from Pediatrics to Family Medicine to Dermatology to Orthopedic Surgery. Their training includes all the training MD receives: they attend 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and at least 3 years of residency. Although they also have their own types, they can complete the same residency training programs, same medical board exams, and earn the same board certification as MDs. They are fully licensed physicians and surgeons in all 50 states, prescribe medications, perform surgery, and independently practice medicine. DOs and MDs work alongside one another in all areas of medicine. They are separate, but equal in their medical practice and theory. The difference lies in the Osteopathic medical philosophy.

    Osteopathic medicine was founded in 1874 by Andrew Taylor Still, a MD. He felt that the medical practices of the day were suboptimal and thought physicians should promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself, prevent disease, and maintain health. He emphasized the muscuoskeletal system in understanding how illness or injury in one part of the body affects another. Osteopathic physicians are taught from the first day of Osteopathic medical school to treat the entire person – not just one body part or system. Their training focuses on the body’s inherent ability to heal itself. They look for ways to restore and maintain health, not just eliminate disease. In addition to learning all that MDs learn, DOs are also trained in the practice of Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT). OMT is predicated on the theory that structure and function are reciprocally related. Without optimal structure and function, the health of the body suffers. OMT consists of hands-on therapy that helps remove restriction, encourage blood and lymphatic flow, alleviate pain, and return the body to its original state of healthy functioning. Osteopathic physicians can use OMT in every field of medicine in order to restore and maintain health. This additional skills that DOs possess enables them to bring an extra dimension to quality patient care.

    DOs play a vital role not only in helping reduce the physician shortage in America, but especially in meeting the need for primary care physicians. Given the holistic, patient-centered view of Osteopathic medicine, it is not surprising that over 60% of DOs practice primary care in fields such as Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, and Obstetrics and Gynecology. DOs are also notorious for practicing in rural, underserved communities. Primary care is most conducive to the Osteopathic philosophy of holistic, preventative, patient-centered healthcare.

    The differences between DOs and MDs are subtle, but deep. That does not, however, minimize the fact that they both work for a common purpose: to ease suffering, promote health, prevent disease, and improve quality of life in patients. Osteopathic physicians, however, use their unique philosophy, additional skill set, and all other available medical options to provide patients with the highest quality, most comprehensive healthcare available.