WHAT IS A D.O.?

I get asked that A LOT!  D.O. stands for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine.  There are lots of explanations you can find online.  Here's what it means to me...

 

In the 19th century, when doctors were using leaches and tonics, Dr. Andrew Still broke away in an effort to reject these practices that he felt may be harmful to his patients.  He studied anatomy/physiology and non-western philosophies of medicine and developed the Philosophy of Osteopathic Medicine. 

 

The Philosophy of Osteopathic Medicine basically says that we believe that the body, mind, and spirit are a harmonious unit with all the systems connected and capable of self-healing. This includes the systems of the body (cardiovascular, pulmonary, nervous, gastrointestinal, etc) as well as the systems of the mind and spirit.  As physicians, then, we must never forget the butterfly effect that our choices can have on the human body and we must never forget that our patients are not just a body, but an intellectual/emotional/spiritual being of equal importance as well.  This philosophy helps to keep us focused on treating the whole patient and seeing the big picture, instead of getting lost in one tiny problem. 

 

Training differences between DOs and MDs are found only in the scope of our education.  In DO school, we take an additional course in the Osteopathic Manual (or Manipulative) Medicine (OMM) techniques developed by Dr. Still that were meant to directly impact the nervous and musculoskeletal systems often in hope of influencing other systems.  Simply put, these are a blend of chiropractic/physical therapy/acupressure type techniques.  DO students usually take both the USMLE (MD) and the COMLEX (DO) licensing exams after medical school to provide an equal basis of comparison with MD students because they may apply for either an MD or a DO residency program.  A DO program will allow them to further develop their OMM skills, while an MD program does not offer OMM training.  A DO also has the additional option of specializing in OMM if s/he chooses.  I chose an MD family medicine residency through UCSF.

 

In all other ways, DO education/training is nearly identical to that of MDs.  We both get a four year college degree.  We both go to medical school for four years.  We both must go to a residency program of three years or more tailored to our specialty of choice.  We both are free to choose any medical or surgical specialty to further our knowledge or skills.  We both must pass licensing exams to practice medicine and we both must complete similar hours of continuing medical education every year to maintain that license.  We both must pass the same exam in our individual specialty to become board certified in that specialty.  I am board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine, the same board that certifies all other MD and DO physicians who specialize in family practice.

 

Over time, both the DO and MD disciplines of medicine agreed to accept any medical treatment developed that was proven safe and effective.  For this reason, the two disciplines of medicine have grown together to the point that they are indistinguishable from one another on a day in, day out basis.  In the rare circumstance that we have exhausted the benefits of evidence based medicine, the acceptance of the osteopathic belief that our body, mind, and spirit are a unit may lead osteopathic doctors to have a more open mind for modalities that are considered safe, but are yet to be proven effective by the scientific (randomized double-blind placebo controlled) studies that have become the backbone of evidence-based decision making in traditional western medicine.  Ultimately though, the difference between an MD and a DO has no more impact on the care provided than the differences in personality among all physicians.  Both MDs and DOs are fully licensed medical doctors, practicing evidence-based western medicine to the best of their ability with full medical practice rights throughout the US.

I hope that sheds some light on what it means to be a DO!  If you have more questions...just ask me!