Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine

Discover a growing class of physicians known as Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) who are physician/surgeons. These medical doctors are just as qualified as your Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) counterparts. But in actual reality osteopathic doctors have more training because of their 200 hours of osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) completed during medical school.

As a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) you can practice modern medicine and go into any specialty of your choosing, although many DOs focus on primary care. Regardless of your chosen specialty your duties as a medical doctor may include:

  • prescribing medications
  • performing surgery
  • diagnosing and treating diseases/illness.


Osteopathic Doctor (DO) vs. Allopathic Doctor (MD)

What sets these doctors apart is their view on treating patients.

As a D.O. your focus is on helping individuals achieve wellness by emphasizing health promotion and disease prevention. 

This means you will focus on the patient first and not the disease or symptoms. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine are trained to take a more holistic approach whereas the M.D. will treat your symptoms and disease first. 

By attending one of the osteopathic medical schools you will spend an extra 200 hours of learning the craft of osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM).

Don't worry this takes place over your four years of medical school.  Mainly you will attend OMM lab during your first two years of medical school to learn your osteopathic treatments which you can then use throughout your medical career.  Osteopathic manipulation  medicine will be beneficial to your patients in areas such as:

  • alleviate pain
  • restore motion
  • support the body's natural functions
  • influence body structure to improve function


Osteopathic Medicine Training

Sorry there are no short cuts to becoming a doctor.

To become an osteopathic doctor you must apply via AACOMAS to attend an osteopathic medical school where you will graduate with the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree. Medical school lasts four years the same amount of time it takes for allopathic medical students to earn their Doctor of Medicine degree.

From the first day of medical school osteopathic medicine focuses on considering the patient as more than a collection of organs, body parts or systems which may become diseased and injured. Osteopathic medical schools produce doctors who rely on holistic training and form a partnership with their patients so they can lead healthy lives.

After medical school you will apply to a residency program. To gain specialized training in your chosen area of medicine.

It should be noted that at this time there is only one match through the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) which oversee both allopathic and osteopathic residencies in one unified system. This means DOs will have the opportunity to train in allopathic residencies but allopaths cannot train in a osteopathic residency. 

Clearly, the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine is getting the best of both worlds. 

One a side note, many osteopathic medical students will study for their Boards using USMLE material because it mirrors what they are required to know and they'll just pickup supplemental review materials for the OMM portion of their COMLEX Board exams.


Osteopathic Trends

Today, nearly one in five medical school students are training to become osteopathic physicians.  

There was once a time when becoming a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine was looked down upon by MDs but this view is changing as osteopathic doctors grow in numbers and become more prevalent throughout the healthcare system.  

Here's a story...

I know a MD who is at retirement age and he states, "You can be a DO they do everything a regular MD does." But the kicker is in his next sentence when he says, "I'll take a MD over a DO any day though."

I share the above story to point out that there is some bias against the osteopathic degree by allopathic doctors especially the older physicians. But as more and more osteopathic doctors join the healthcare ranks people are beginning to realize these are highly capable and competent doctors. 

The only thing you really need to have is a "thick skin" to deal with some of the negative views you may face as a DO. For instance, some people believe you only go to osteopathic medical school because you weren't smart enough to get into an allopathic medical school. 

While at other times you'll have to defend and explain exactly what sets you apart from your M.D. colleagues when interacting with patients. Although, most patients won't question you on anything because all they will here is, "Dr._____, is here to....." and that will be the end of the discussion.


Considerations for Applying to DO Schools

I think everyone has to make a clear choice about if they want to be a doctor or not.

I've had some students say they would never attend an osteopathic college of medicine and for them it is M.D. or bust which is totally fine.

However, a discussion needs to be had about students who are choosing between an osteopathic medical school or caribbean MD program.

In my opinion I think it is extremely advantageous for you to attend an osteopathic medical school rather than going to the Caribbean for medical school. 

The reason being the education is going to be more uniform and you will have more opportunities to actually land a residency position after you graduate from medical school. Carribbean medical schools have a tendency to take in way more students then who will actually complete the program.

Meaning there are certain hurdles at each level of your training in a Caribbean medical school that you have to overcome in case you want to graduate. For instance there are only so many clinical placements available in the United States for you to complete your last two years of medical school and these schools expect that not everyone will pass or will drop out before making it to clinicals.

This then puts that student at a huge disadvantage because of the amount of student loans taken out and not earning a medical degree. Overall, it's just a big gamble especially when you consider that medical schools in the United States have over a 96% graduation rate of all matriculated students. 

I don't want to knock anyone who is going the Caribbean route as I think you just need to know what you're getting yourself into. During my 4th year of medical school I met many students from Caribbean medical schools and they were very competent and bright students. However, I would say they are the exception because they would have had to perform better then their classmates to actually progress to their clinical years in the United States. Basically, they were the best of the best out of the Caribbean medical students. 


Primary Care Mission

A surprising fact is that most osteopathic medical schools produce doctors who practice primary care. But if you know the mission statement of these institutions you will understand why. 

Osteopathic medicine is focused on providing care in rural and urban underserved areas. DOs make up 7 percent of all U.S. physicians but they are responsible for 16 percent of patient visits in communities with less than 2,500 people.