There are a lot of myths and an air of mystery floating around D.O.’s (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) and osteopathic medicine. Some people see D.O.’s as their primary care physician, yet do not even know it. Many people are unclear of what a D.O. is or have never heard of an osteopathic physician.
With all of the public confusion surrounding the D.O. degree, why would I prefer this path to become a physician instead of the traditional route by obtaining an M.D. degree?
Before getting into too much detail, I’ll explain the basics.
An M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) is a licensed medical doctor who practices conventional, evidence-based medicine. They primarily rely on pharmaceuticals and surgeries to treat a patient presenting with disease symptoms. This medical degree is highly recognized internationally, and the degree with which most people are familiar. Training to practice as an M.D. in the U.S. requires a bachelor’s degree, 4 years of M.D. school, completion of the USMLE, and completion of a residency program.
A D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) is a licensed medical doctor who also practices conventional, evidence-based medicine. However, they have an additional tool in their medical toolbox called osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT. When D.O.’s use OMT, they rely on their hands to diagnose and treat the patient. The main idea of OMT is to help the body return to its optimal state of healing. D.O.’s believe that structure influences function. By using a variety of evidence-based techniques to treat the musculoskeletal system, D.O’s can decrease pain and increase mobility, circulation, and lymphatic flow to restore the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Training to practice as a D.O. requires a bachelor’s degree, 4 years of D.O. school, completion of the COMLEX, and completion of a residency program. In addition to what is taught in M.D. school, D.O. students must also complete 200-500 hours of training in OMT.
As you can see, the training is similar between M.D.’s and D.O.’s. Because of this, one degree isn’t necessarily better than the other, and both types of doctors will work to provide the best medical care for their patients.
I wanted to attend D.O. school because I believe obtaining this type of degree will benefit my future patients the most. D.O.’s truly believe in the importance of preventative medicine, and it is emphasized throughout their training to examine a patient’s lifestyle and mental wellbeing in addition to their physical wellbeing. As someone who wants to go into a primary care field, I believe learning OMT will greatly help my patients, and could save them from opioid medication use or unnecessary and expensive surgeries. The osteopathic philosophy also helps train a future doctor to think outside of the box by emphasizing that each patient is unique, and by training the physician to constantly think about how one body system could be impacting other body systems. This type of thinking is advantageous for someone in a primary care field, who must consider multiple systems of the body to obtain an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan for their patients. Finally, D.O.’s learn to always use their hands to come to a diagnostic conclusion. This is a dying art in a physician’s practice due to technological developments and minimal time with patients. Touch can communicate so much, not only from a medical perspective, but from a humanistic perspective. A touch can let a patient know you care about them and are truly listening to them despite only having a 15 minute appointment.
As a future D.O., I cannot wait to be able to provide my patients holistic, preventative care. I am proud to be training as an osteopathic physician.
“To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease.” – Andrew Taylor Still, M.D., D.O.