What is the Difference Between a DO Physician and an MD?

Comparing The Two Types of Doctors

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"I'm having surgery and my surgeon is a DO. What is the difference between a DO and an MD?"

DO versus MD: Philosophy 

A physician who is a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) is held to the same standards as an MD. They both attend four years of medical school and complete their training at the same residency programs. A surgeon who wants to be board certified in a specialty will take similar tests for certification, regardless of whether they are a DO or an MD.

The differences between a DO and an MD stem from differences in teaching styles and philosophies during medical school. Osteopathic Medicine schools have long instructed medical students in looking at the whole patient, rather than the injured or diseased part.

While this was a major difference in the past, allopathic (MD) programs are also embracing the "whole person" approach, so this difference is not as notable as it once was. Both schools are now educating future doctors to be aware of the patient as a whole person, not a set of symptoms—a more holistic approach. This means considering not only a person's body but their mind and spirit as well.

The "whole-person" approach also emphasizes overall wellness and health preventive strategies—caring for the body when it's healthy to prevent illness, as opposed to only providing care in the face of illness. 

DO versus MD: OMT Training

DO students are also educated in Osteopathic Medical Treatment (OMT), which is body manipulation similar to that which is done by chiropractors.

Not all DO physicians use OMT in their practice. OMT requires special training of the musculoskeletal system, which consists of your muscles, bones, joints, cartilage, ligaments, and other connective tissues that allow movement of and provide support to your body. 

OMT is used to alleviate muscle or joint pain, but can also be used to treat other pain disorders like migraines or carpal tunnel syndrome.

For example, imagine a patient who goes to his family physician because of chronic headaches. A patient who has a headache who goes to an MD will likely to be examined and tested thoroughly for medical reasons for a headache. A DO, on the other hand, may include manipulation of the neck in his evaluation.

A Word From Verywell

In the end, you should choose a surgeon based on his proficiency with the procedure you need, his willingness to answer your questions thoroughly, and his willingness to work toward your goals as a patient. The DO versus MD issue is really a non-issue when selecting a surgeon.  

Skill is the most important aspect of choosing a surgeon and the type of training they had in medical school is less important than the surgery training they completed as a resident, fellow and in practice as a fully credentialed physician.  Other considerations should include whether the surgeon will accept your insurance (in network) and their bedside manner along with their willingness to answer any questions you might have. 

While you may be more familiar with physicians with the MD credential, DO credentialed physicians are also highly skilled and well-trained. 


American Osteopathic Association. (2016). What is a DO?

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