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Do You Know The Difference Between An MD and a DO Physician?

10 months, 3 weeks ago

4237  0
Posted on Mar 04, 2018, 2 a.m.

The medical designation of MD stands for Doctor Of Medicine, it is seen on TV shows, medical directories, and office doors, the majority of people are familiar with the term. What is less familiar to most is the designation DO which stands for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. Some may think they are pretty much the same, but there are distinctions between the two, and it is important to understand the differences when choosing a specialist or primary care physician.

Allopathic medicine is practiced by doctors who have an MD degree. Allopathic medicine is a term that was coined to differentiate homeopathy from science based medicine in the early 19th century.


Osteopathic medicine is practiced by doctors with a DO designation. Osteopathic medicine is a medical discipline described by some as alternative medicine, that emphasizes the treatment of illnesses through massage and the manipulation of muscles, joints, and bones.


Physicians with a DO degree are held to the same standards as an MD, with both attending 4 years of medical schooling and the same residency programs to complete their training.


Osteopathic medicine has a philosophy that is centered around the person as a whole approach to care that emphasizes prevention and wellness as opposed to just treating symptoms and illness. MD programs now actively embrace this approach with it being reflected in educating doctors to look beyond displayed symptoms to integrate body and mind into a more thoughtful and holistic manner. Careers in family medicine are traditionally pursued by doctors of osteopathic medicine. A wider range of surgical and medical specialties are now pursued by graduates.


Non-medical osteopaths with no medical background that are trained solely in body manipulation should not be confused with physicians with DO degrees. Non-medical osteopaths not only lack in the skills required to treat medical conditions but they are also barred from using the designation of DO in the USA.


Medical students who wish to acquire a DO degree are educated in osteopathic medical treatment, which is the practise of body manipulation that is similar to that used by chiropractors. OMT and medical training is typically conducted over a 4 year period after which passing a board examination is required in order to become a certified fully licensed physician.


Medical students who wish to acquire an MD degree must also go through 4 years of medical training and board certification.


Medical students who wish to become a licensed physician are required to take one of two exams, the USMLE which can be taken by either an MD or DO medical student, or the COMLEX exam which only DO students take. Both MD and DO degrees are basically identical allowing physicians the distinction to practice the full scope of medicine within the USA as well as 64 other countries. Physicians who acquired an DO degree abroad are not offered the same privilege and their degrees are not recognized in the United States.


Selection of a doctor will depend upon experience and expertise as much as it does the degree hanging on the wall. The choice is subjective for which an MD or DO degree offers little distinction. It is also important to know that being board certified in osteopathic medicine does not mean that the doctor will incorporate OMT into practice. An MD and DO will approach a case in more or less the same manner by reviewing patient history, symptoms, and tests before offering a treatment plan to patients. A DO may offer an adjustment if it is called for, but generally it is not offered as an alternative, rather as adjunct to standardly prescribed medical practices.


A doctor should be selected based on a shared vision of the goals desired to achieve, proficiency, and willingness to answer questions. There are variations between how an MD or DO may approach treatment, but they are generally incidental and should not influence the decision as to which one might be better than the other.


Materials provided by:

American Osteopathic Association

Note: Content may be edited for style and length.




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