It's easy to recognize doctors just by reading their nametags. After all, they
have the letters MD (for doctor of medicine) after
their last names, right?
But what if you see the letters DO? You might be
surprised to learn that DO is an abbreviation for another type of physician: a doctor
of osteopathic medicine, or osteopathic physician.
What's a DO?
According to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), osteopathic medicine is
a complete system of health care with a philosophy that combines the needs of the
patient with the current practice of medicine. Doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs)
practice a whole-person approach, which means they consider both the physical and
mental needs of their patients. DOs strive to help patients be truly healthy in mind
and body — not just free of symptoms.
This "holistic" approach to health care was developed by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still,
who feared that 19th-century medicine was doing more harm than good. Disgusted
at the ineffectiveness of fellow practitioners during the Civil War, he decided to
focus on the body's ability to heal itself and began to stress preventive medicine.
He also identified the musculoskeletal
system as a key element of health, stressing that muscles, nerves, bones, and
organs are all interrelated. In 1892, Dr. Still founded the American School of Osteopathy
in Kirksville, Missouri.
A key part of osteopathic medicine is a technique called OMT, or osteopathic manipulative
treatment. In OMT, physicians use their hands as a primary tool to diagnose and treat
illness and injury. This form of manual medicine lets DOs examine the back and other
parts of the body (such as joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles) for pain and restriction
during motion that could signal an injury or impaired function.
Although they sometimes focus on the back, these physicians are not
chiropractors. OMT is a treatment very specific to how and where people injure themselves
and how that injury can lead to symptoms.
DOs and MDs
Only two types of medical doctors are recognized in the United States: MDs and
DOs. Both are licensed by state and specialty boards to practice medicine, perform
surgery, and write prescriptions. Applicants to both DO and MD colleges usually have
a 4-year undergraduate degree with an emphasis on science courses, and both complete
4 years of basic medical education.
must maintain a prescribed level of continuing medical education (CME) to remain
credentialed and licensed
About 96,000 osteopathic physicians now practice in the United States. Because
osteopathic schools emphasize primary care training, more than half of all DOs practice
in areas such as pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, and internal medicine.
To Find a DO
You can find DOs through the American Osteopathic Association, or through local
osteopathic hospitals and state osteopathic medical associations. And many MDs and
DOs practice together as members of the same group.