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The Differences Between Osteopathic (DO's) and Allopathic (MD's) Physicians

Updated on February 29, 2016
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Katie graduated with both a BA in Chemistry from BYU and a BA in Spanish from UVU in 2016. She graduated from medical school in 2020.

There are two types of doctors in the United States, Doctors of Osteopathy (DOs) and Doctors of Medicine (MDs). MDs are also known as Allopathic Doctors.

Doctor of Osteopathy (DO)

Doctors of Osteopathy (DOs) are just as qualified to treat patients as Allopathic Doctors (MDs).
Doctors of Osteopathy (DOs) are just as qualified to treat patients as Allopathic Doctors (MDs). | Source

What do DOs and MDs have in common?

MDs and Dos have many things in common. For example:

  • Both must hold four year undergraduate degrees from an accredited school before beginning medical school.
  • Both must complete four years of medical school.
  • Both must complete three to eight years of internship, residency and fellowship training after medical school.
  • Both must pass comparable, although different, licensing boards before they can practice medicine.
  • Both can work in any specialty.
  • Both work in licensed health care facilities.

What is osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT)?

At one time, DOs were considered less prestigious than MDs. This is no longer the case. Any feeling that DOs are any less than MDs is due to a lack of education or historical bias. If anything, DOs should be considered more prestigious than MDs as DOs can pass MD medical boards, but MDs cannot pass DO medical boards.

The reason that MDs cannot pass DO medical boards is because DOs learn OMT, or Osteopathic manipulative treatment, in addition to the MD curriculum. OMT allows a DO to use their hands to diagnose, treat and prevent injuries and diseases. DOs use these techniques to stretch, and apply gentle pressure and resistance to muscles and joints to put the body into the best position to heal itself as possible. They also have a greater ability to palpate internal organs to check for rigidity, abnormalities and pain, when diagnosing a patient.

What is the DO philosophy?

Although MDs and DOs have many things in common, there are some important differences between the two schools of thought as well. DOs tend to take a more holistic approach to medicine. They are taught to treat the whole person instead of just the person’s chief complaint. The DO philosophy also gives more weight to the mind-body connection in treating a patient. Their goal is to put the body in the best position possible to heal itself. They use medications and recommend surgeries when necessary, but might be a little slower to suggest pills and procedures than an MD. They also frequently recommend diet and lifestyle changes that will help the body cope with or prevent specific disease states your body is prone to.

In which specialties do DOs practice?

Although DOs can practice in any specialty, it can be harder for them to secure MD residencies and residencies in certain specialties. This is the case for several reasons, some of which include the historical bias that MDs were more qualified than DOs, that some specialty residencies are only available to MDs, and that the DO philosophy especially lends itself to primary care. In addition, the focus of many DO schools is to not only produce primary care physicians, but to provide physicians in rural and medically underserved areas. More than 60% of DOs are in primary care specialties which include family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology.

Is a DO the right fit for me?

There are several important factors in choosing a primary care physician. You should find someone whom you can trust and can be completely open and honest with. You should find someone whom you can get appointments with when necessary. You should find someone who accepts your insurance, is as affordable as possible, and who will work with your economic situation. You should find someone who puts you at ease.

If you like the DO philosophy, you might consider looking specifically for a DO. If you’re indifferent, don’t worry about whether or not your DO is qualified to provide healthcare for you and your family. As long as he or she is appropriately licensed to practice medicine in your area, DOs are just as competent and capable as MDs.

Would you see a DO?

Would you see a DO as your primary care physician?

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