Have you ever seen the initials “D.O.” after a doctor’s name? In my experience, many people are curious — what exactly is an Osteopathic Doctor? How is this any different from an M.D.? What can I expect when I am being treated by a D.O. versus an M.D.? All of these are fair questions.
The Difference between a D.O. & M.D.
People who hold a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine go to a four-year medical school after completing undergraduate studies, just like people who hold a Doctor of Medicine degree. Just like M.D.s, they complete formal training through programs called residencies and then must pass national board exams to become licensed and able to practice medicine. D.O.s can prescribe medicine and can practice in all 50 states in the United States, in a range of areas from primary care to surgical specialties From a patient’s perspective, a key difference is that at Osteopathic schools, future D.O.s are trained in a more patient-centered, holistic approach to care.
A Holistic Approach
The history of Osteopathic medicine starts with Dr. A.T. Still, a medical doctor in the 1800s who believed that 19th-century medicine was overutilizing medication that was potentially harmful. His approach was to focus on the body’s own ability to heal itself. He created the four Osteopathic Tenets that provide the groundwork for training today’s D.O.s, including this one: “The body is a unit; the person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit.” Thus, Osteopathic physicians tend to use a well-rounded approach to patient care. They consider a patient’s lifestyle, environment, psychological components, spiritual well-being, as well as physical state.
Patients As Partners In Care
Osteopathic physicians are trained to approach medical care as a partnership between themselves and the patient. Osteopathic schools have a stronger focus on communication skills; they introduce simulated patients early on in medical school to begin such training right away. In addition, these schools tend to place a higher level of importance on primary care such as family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics. Many D.O.s aim to provide care in rural or underserved areas and emphasize health education and prevention while still being able to diagnose and treat illness.
The final key difference one might notice about Osteopathic physicians is their more hands-on approach to patient care. During training, the physical exam portion of a patient encounter is of utmost importance, right after understanding the patient’s history. D.O.s are encouraged to “place hands” on every patient. Furthermore, they get approximately 200 additional hours of training in a technique called Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment. Another one of the four Osteopathic Tenets states, “The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health maintenance.” Osteopathic manipulation is a set of techniques individualized for a person after examination and includes treatments used to help the body regulate its own mechanisms for healing.
While there is currently a critical shortage of primary care doctors in America, we see more and more medical students choosing to enroll in Osteopathic schools which are well-known to produce a higher proportion of primary care physicians than traditional medical schools do. Over 25 percent of the medical students in the United States today are now training to be Osteopathic physicians.
It is important to take note that those who hold a D.O. are no less qualified to practice medicine than those that hold an M.D. Heck, they might just be the new doctor in town.
Dr. Rebecca Thompson earned a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine and recently established her practice in the Shepherdstown Medical Office Building.By Rebecca Thompson, DO