How is A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Different

A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, or DO, is different from his/her MD colleagues. However, besides the degree distinction (DO vs MD) you probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference between them. Lets take a minute to see the difference and why, in practice, they are all pretty much the same.

Side note: I won't talk very much about the difference in curriculum AT medical school on this page, that is reserved for this page here as always if you have questions or want more information on a specific topic please contact me.

How A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine is Different

AT Still was the first Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. In the 1800s he, like many doctors of the time, believed that their medicine wasn't doing as much good as it should be. He came to believe that the human body had a far greater capacity to heal itself then man-made medicine did. He studied anatomy exhaustively and came up with several hands-on maneuver's that helped fix structural dysfunction. He worked on things like joints, muscle tightness and pain, sympathetic and parasympathetic responses to touch, and so on. He seemed to have some very good success with his techniques. Over the years, many other osteopathic physicians built upon his work and have improved upon, or created new techniques.

So from day one a doctor of osteopathic medicine is taught to use his hands. Not only for diagnosis, but for treatment of the human body. The philosophy being that the body, when structurally sound, will physiologically heal itself. They have ideas like loosening the diaphragm muscles will help the flow of the major lymph vessels that pass through it, decreasing edema (swelling), and allowing lymph to return to circulation more quickly.

Beyond this difference in philosophy, the AOA or American Osteopathic Association, has decided that they, being osteopathic physicians, can fill a much needed niche in primary care. They encourage students to go that route and they have many more spots in primary care positions then specialty positions available during residency.

Student who graduate from a DO school, have an advantage to getting into residency. They can apply to DO only residencies, AND to MD residencies. Though they are at a big disadvantage in the MD match when compared to other MD students, that disadvantage is diminished in the fact that they have their own match to participate in as well.

So what does all that mean for real world medicine? You are perhaps a bit more likely to find a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine in a primary care role, and you can find specialists in OMT (osteopathic manipulative treatment - the hands on approach to medicine that DO's learn in their schools) who are primary care doctors that do mainly hands on manipulation. However, you are unlikely to see a difference in a DO and a MD at any point in your life...why?

How A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine is the Same

A doctor of osteopathic medicine is unlikely to show any real difference when looked at side-by-side with their MD counterparts. There are a few reasons for this.
First, there are DO's in literally every single specialty of medicine in the world. Some of the are in very prominent positions, and practice medicine very effectively.
Second, MD's in primary care are every bit as caring and skilled as DO's in doing a history and physical, diagnosis, and treatment. The mere fact that the DO's schooling was more geared to primary care doesn't put them at an advantage for very long, if ever.
Third, many DO's are there because they didn't get in to MD schools. They have no interest in OMT or the philosophy that accompanies an osteopathic education. Most osteopathic school are trying to weed out these people, but it is difficult and will take a few more years.

So most people when they go to a doctor, don't really care what letters are behind their name. If they are qualified, caring, and thoughtful doctors, the patients love them, continue to see them, and refer to them. The difference really is negligible in MOST (not all) physicians.

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