What is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine

What is a D.O.?

Four Surgeons At Work
Four Surgeons At Work. Image: © MedioImages/Getty Images

A doctor of osteopathic medicine is one of two degrees that allows physicians to practice in the United States. The other professional medical degree is the more commonly known "M.D" or medical doctor degree. An M.D. may also be referred to as an allopathic physician.

To become a doctor of osteopathic medicine, one must complete high school courses, graduate and then attend college. One must have a bachelor's degree, most commonly obtained in a science, to attend medical school.

Undergraduate studies should include physics, chemistry, and biology. When the bachelor's degree is complete or nearly completed, the student takes a test to assess their readiness to attend a medical school. The score from this test will be used to determine which students are the most desirable, along with grade point average, personal interviews, and letters of recommendation. Once accepted to an osteopathic medicine program, an additional four years of school (referred to as "medical school" whether the person is attending a D.O. program or an M.D. program) are completed. At the end of the four years, a board examination must be completed and passed before the individual is made a fully licensed physician.

Traditionally, doctors of osteopathic medicine have largely practiced primary care family medicine; however, in recent years graduates of osteopathic schools have pursued a wide number of medical specialties.

Osteopathic trained physicians are now practicing in every area of medical and surgical specialties.

There are significantly more schools granting the M.D. designation versus the D.O. designation, resulting in the M.D. designation being more widely known, comprising 93% of the doctors in America. However, as the number of graduates from osteopathic medicine schools increases the percentage of osteopathic physicians will increase.

Currently, approximately 20% of all new medical students are studying to be osteopathic physicians, which is significantly higher than decades past.

When comparing physicians from M.D. and D.O. schools, it is important to know that they tests given for credentials are either identical or very similar, holding medical students, residents, and fellows to the same high standards. That said, the primary difference between the training of an allopath and an osteopathic physician is that the D.O. receives several hundred hours of training in osteopathic manipulative medicine, a hands-on type of bodywork that is similar to chiropractic medicine.

MD versus DO

To become a licensed physician, osteopathic medicine students may take one of two exams, the COMLEX, which only D.O. students may take, or the USMLE, which can be taken by D.O. or M.D. students. Only medical students who studied osteopathic medicine in the United States may practice medicine in the U.S. Osteopathic medicine students who study abroad are not permitted to practice medicine in America.

Conversely, some countries outside the United States will accept an American trained D.O., but some will not. Other countries, such as Australia, may elect to allow practice on a case by case basis.

For patients, there is little difference in the care one might receive from an American-trained D.O. versus and American trained M.D., given the same residency and fellowship level training. There is no discernible difference in skill level, outcomes, fees or bedside manner amongst the different types of physicians. M.D. and D.O. surgeons are trained side by side as residents and fellows, receiving the same hands-on education and working the same exhaustive hours. No study has ever shown that the outcomes are different based on the type of medical school that was attended.

Source:

Pre Medicine Program: Becoming an MD/DO. University of Wisconsin La Crosse.

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