Most people consider “doctor” and “M.D.” to be synonymous, but many people don’t know that there are actually two pathways to becoming a physician in the United States; allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO). DOs are fully qualified physicians who are able to prescribe medications, practice medicine, and performs surgery just like their MD counterparts. The major difference between allopathic and osteopathic physicians is the medical philosophy they are taught in school. DOs focus on preventative care and the body’s innate ability to heal itself whereas MDs are taught to find the cause of the problem and to treat accordingly.
Despite this difference in philosophy, education and training between MD and DO students is nearly identical. Applicants to either MD or DO schools have to complete 1 year of biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics and English prior to taking the MCAT. Once in medical school, both MD and DO students complete the same basic medical courses including anatomy, embryology, histology, physiology, pathology, biochemistry and pharmacology. The major difference while in medical school is that DO students receive an additional 200 hours of training in osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) which is a hands-on method of diagnosis and treatment. Both MD and DO students spend their last 2 years of medical school doing clinical rotations. Graduates of osteopathic and allopathic schools complete 3-7 years of residency depending on which specialty they want to practice in. Just like MDs, DOs are required to pass licensing boards in the state they practice.
So you may be wondering, if DOs and MDs are both fully licensed medical doctors in the United States, why don’t we hear about DOs more often? From a sheer numbers standpoint there are far more MDs than DOs practicing in the United States. Out of the approximately 1 million practicing physicians in America, just over 100,000 are DOs. With that being said, Osteopathic medicine is now one of the fastest growing professions in healthcare, with nearly 1 out of every 4 U.S. medical students attending an osteopathic school.
To read about why I chose to become a DO, click here.