Career Overview for Osteopathic Medicine

Job Responsibilities and Education

Osteopath treating patient
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Osteopathic medicine is one of the two mainstream methodologies of practicing medicine in the US. Physicians may choose to practice one of two types of medicine - allopathic, or osteopathic. A physician who graduates from an osteopathic medical school receives a D.O. degree, for Doctor of Osteopathic medicine, and a physician who graduates from an allopathic medical school receives an M.D.

Doctors of osteopathic medicine can perform surgery and prescribe medication as allopathic medical doctors can.

Osteopathic physicians can specialize in any one of the hundreds of medical or surgical specialties or subspecialties.

Osteopathic medicine is not characterized as an alternative medicine. Osteopathic medicine is becoming increasingly common and more widely accepted as more osteopathic schools open, and more physicians practice as osteopathic physicians.

Job Responsibilities

According to the American Osteopathic association, osteopathic physicians are trained to:

  • Teach patients how to prevent illness and injury by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • Look at the whole person to reach a diagnosis without focusing just on symptoms.
  • Help the body to heal itself.
  • Believe that all parts of the body work together and influence one another. DOs are specially trained in the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system (muscles and bones).
  • Perform osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a hands-on approach to diagnosing, treating, and preventing illness or injury.

    Education and Certification

    Like all physicians in the U.S., Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine are licensed to practice medicine by licensing boards in each state. Requirements vary by state.

    Typically, licensure requires successful completion of a medical licensing exam administered by the state licensing board or acceptance of a certificate issued by the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners upon completion of a rigorous series of exams.

    The Federation of State Medical Boards provides a directory of state licensing boards that can be contacted for information regarding physician licensure.

    DOs earn board certification when they achieve expertise in a medical specialty or subspecialty by meeting the requirements of a specialty certifying board. Physicians in the U.S. can become board certified through the American Osteopathic Association or the American Board of Medical Specialties. The board certification process involves a combination of written, practical and simulator-based tests.

    Osteopathic Medicine Approach

    The most significant difference in osteopathic medicine is that there is more emphasis on a holistic approach to medical care, treating the whole patient, not just isolating one system of the body. Additionally, a technique called osteopathic manipulation is unique to osteopathic medicine. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), osteopathic physicians provide a “patient-centered, holistic, hands-on approach to diagnosing and treating illness and injury.”

    By the Numbers

    According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, about 55,000 licensed physicians currently practice osteopathic medicine.

    Additionally, osteopathic physicians are entering the workforce at a rate of about 4,000 per year.