Doctor of Medicine (MD) vs. Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)

There are two types of physicians: Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). While both are physicians, with many similarities in their training, there are also differences between the two. Before you enter medical school, it can be worthwhile to examine both of these divisions of medicine to determine which type of health care you wish to pursue.

MDs and DOs: Understanding the Differences

Both allopathic physicians (MDs) and osteopathic physicians are recognized as fully licensed doctors in all 50 states, educated in diagnosing and treating illness and other disorders and in providing preventive care to their patients. Allopathic physicians are recognized in most other countries, but DOs are finding increased support worldwide, as well. A DO’s education is largely the same as an MD’s, requiring about 11 years of undergraduate studies, medical school, and postgraduate training.

DOs and MDs practice their professions in a largely identical manner. Like their allopathic counterparts, DOs are able to specialize in a particular area of medicine, and to perform surgery and prescribe medication. DOs differ, however, in that they are trained in Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) while MDs are not. OMT requires that the DO use his or her hands to diagnose or treat illnesses or injury. Osteopathic medicine considers the whole body — a mind, body, spirit approach — in caring for a patient and also emphasizes preventive medicine.

While state licensing agencies view DOs and MDs as professionally equivalent, there are minor differences — both in reality and in perception — between the two types of physicians. Admission to traditional medical school can be quite competitive, and a student’s academic success is pretty much the determining factor in whether he or she is admitted to a program. Meanwhile, osteopathic medical schools are known for looking at an applicant from more than just a performance or statistical standpoint, and they often accept a more nontraditional applicant. For example, the average age of beginning osteopathic medical school students is 26, compared with 24 years of age at allopathic medical schools.

Doctor of Medicine (MD) vs. Doctor of Osteopathy (DO)

Once an osteopathic physician is ready to start practicing medicine in a professional setting, he or she may encounter a few minor differences from an MD’s experience. There are more than 112 medical specialties, and while a DO can choose a specialty, most are family medicine physicians. This choice often reflects the “whole-body” medical approach found in osteopathic medicine. Work settings can differ immensely within either branch of medicine, but most DOs are employed in small general or family practices.

In terms of perceptual differences, osteopathic medicine is not as well known as allopathic medicine. A DO can expect to spend some time teaching patients and even colleagues about his or her degree and credentials. In some cases, people may even consider osteopathic medicine a type of quackery, and the DO may have to defend the profession to others.

No matter which branch of medicine you choose to study in medical school, it's important to understand the basic principles of each branch, and the differences between them . MDs and DOs sometimes work together in clinical settings, making it important to understand a colleague’s methods of practicing medicine.

Last Updated: 08/20/2013

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