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Types of Doctor Credentials

Updated on September 25, 2012

Which Doctor?

Physicians, podiatrists, dentists, chiropractors and Ph.D. level professionals all use the title doctor.

Even among clinical medical doctors, there are several different types of credentials that signify the profession. Physicians who are licensed to practice clinical medicine and surgery in the United States must hold either a M.D. or D.O. degree.


M.D. - Medical Doctor

M.D. stands for medical doctor. This clinician has gone to medical school for 4 years after college. Upon graduation from medical school, the degree of "Medical Doctor" is awarded.

M.D.s can go on to specialize in the field of their choice in primary care, surgery or the various medical specialties.

A training program called a "residency" follows medical school. This on-the-job advanced training lasts for a minimum of three years and can be stressful and grueling. After that, the doctor may choose whether or not to pursue further, even more specialized, training in a fellowship.

Medical doctors are said to be "allopathic physicians" to distinguish them from other types of doctors-- and practioners of other types of medicine such as osteopathy, or other types of therapy such as homeopathy. Allopathic practices focus on the treatment of ailments via biology, surgery or pharmacology (although the term was coined long ago and more M.D.s incorporate preventive treatment now than in the past).

Andrew Still is regarded as the founder of osteopathic medicine.
Andrew Still is regarded as the founder of osteopathic medicine. | Source

D.O. - Doctor of Osteopathy

Osteopathic doctors receive equivalent privileges to practice medicine as M.D.s. They have their own osteopathic medical schools and credential requirements. After that they may stay in osteopathic medical centers to train or they may do their residencies and other training in similar or the same programs as M.D. graduates. Access to allopathic programs may be more limited for D.O. candidates, however.

Osteopathic medicine was founded by Andrew Still in the late 1800s as an alternative to allopathic practice. Initially, it focused on treating and preventing health problems through the manipulation of bones, joints and muscles.

While osteopathic physicians still receive this type of theory and training in their education, the line between the types of medical care received from M.D.s and D.O.s has blurred due to considerable overlap between them. Osteopaths are licensed to practice medicine and may pursue any speciality.

The Alphabet Soup after Your Doctor's M.D.

There are a host of other abbreviations that may be found after your doctor's name. Most of these signify advanced membership in a professional organization, earned by paying the organizations dues and committing to advancement of the specialty in various ways. Here are some common examples:

FACP: Fellow of the American College of Physicians. This is available to internal medicine doctors or neurologists who are members of the ACP. They may be elected to fellowship by meeting certain criteria such as publication of journal articles, academic positions and so on.

FAAP: Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatricians. Similar to above, but for pediatricians.

FACS: Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. Graduates of surgical residency programs are eligible to apply for membership and the right to use these initials.

…and many, many more can be found. Most of these start with "Fellow, American Academy of…" followed by the letters designating the specialty.

Examples of other degree abbreviations for some professions with the title "doctor"

Optometry Doctor
Eye Care
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Care of animals
Doctor of Dental Surgery
Doctor of Dental Medicine
Doctor of Chiropractic
Doctor of Podiatric Medicine
Podiatrist (Foot doctor)
Pharmacy Doctor
Psychology Doctor
Doctor of Psychology
While there are many others, these are some of the more common ones you may encounter.


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    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      6 years ago from Planet Earth

      This is a very useful guide and explanation of the terms we often see (but don't understand!). Many people ask about the differences - now I have a place to refer them!

      Voted up and up!

    • kj force profile image


      6 years ago from Florida

      TahoeDoc.. Very well written hub..informative... Just wanted to add..Osteopathic medical schools take a holistic perspective on practice of medicine based on a belief in treating the "whole patient" (mind-body-spirit) and the primacy of the musculoskeletal system in human health and the utility of osteopathic manipulative treatment. DO's emphasize prevention, a historical distinction which is less relevant as all of medicine increasingly emphasizes prevention. Basically the DO treated the body whereas the MD treated the disease..nowadays there is not much distinction...

      Thanks for sharing..voted upi

    • Nettlemere profile image


      6 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Interesting that parts of the American system are very different from in the UK. We have trained osteopaths but they are not called doctors and would have to completely retrain to become a medical doctor.


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