DO Vs MD: What Is The Difference?

More and more patients are seeking treatment for their ailments from Osteopathic Doctors as holistic approaches to medicine are becoming increasingly commonplace in the field of medicine as a means of treating illness and injury.

When a patient is in need of treatment they must first decide what type of physician they will see to treatment their ailments, a Doctor of Osteopathy or a Doctor of Medicine.

DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) vs. an MD (Doctor of Medicine)?

Doctors in the United States are either MDs, also known as allopathic doctors, or DOs that practice osteopathy. DOs and MDs actually have more things in common than they do differences.

Patients rarely even notice the difference between the two when receiving treatment and should have no problems feeling comfortable whether their doctor is an DO or MD.

DOs and MDs Use Different Methods

DOs can perform surgery, deliver babies, treat patient ailments, prescribe medication, work in the same medical settings, use similar tools, recommend similar treatments, and use the same technologies as MDs do. It takes the same amount of determination, drive and perseverance to become an DO as it does to become an MD.

Similarities Between DO’s and MDs

The differences between DOs and MDs mainly lie in their approaches to diagnosis and treatments. Osteopathic doctors are trained to see their patients as a whole, while a medical doctors’ goals is to zero in on a specific part of a patient in order to cure disease and ailments.

Osteopathic doctors often use body manipulations as a treatment for illness, while medical doctors are traditionally not certified to provide that kind of treatment.

An MDs Approach to Medicine

Medical doctors are trained to practice allopathic medicine, a term coined by James Whorton, which is described as the use of a treatments on a sick person that would be different from the way you treatment someone who is well.

A good example of this is giving medicine to someone who is healthy. While the medicine would cure a sick person, it will have no affect on someone who is well.

Doctors of medicine are taught to focus on the illness, injuries, and the site of disease in a patient rather than the patient’s bodily symptoms as a whole. Allopathic doctors tend to more heavily rely on medicine and surgeries to treat their patients.

An DOs Approach to Medicine

Doctors of Osteopathy are trained to look at a patient in a holistic manner and view the body as a whole. It is their view that physicians view how all body systems operate together and recognize that a disturbance in one system can alter the way another or even all bodily systems function.

DOs rely heavily on the investigation of organic causes of illness and disease, such as a patient’s  lifestyle, environment, emotional well-being, and nutrition in order to address symptoms.*

“Any variation from health has a cause, and the cause has a location,” stated osteopathic medicine’s founder Dr. A.T. Still. “It is the business of the osteopathic physician to locate and remove it, doing away with the disease and getting healthy instead.”*

For example, while a DO might suggest manipulating musculoskeletal tissue in order to relieve pain an MD might recommend a Tylenol or other pain reliever.*

An DOs Training and Practice

Osteopathic doctors are required to undergo 200 hours of additional training to under to learn this Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT), also known as Osteopathic Manual Medicine (OMM), which MDs do not.

OMT is the practice of using one’s hands to diagnose and treat illness or injury, such as the manipulation of musculoskeletal tissue, which has been proven successful for treating various disorders and can be used as a natural alternative to drug treatments. D.O. programs traditionally have lower acceptance rates than M.D. programs.

Osteopathy also places an emphasis on preventative medicine, self-regulating, self-healing and self-repairing of the body without the overuse of medications and through the use of non-intrusive methods that tend to have fewer side effects.*

History of Osteopathy

Andrew Taylor Still, MD DO developed osteopathic medicine in 1874 at a time when many medicines that were used on patients were toxic, which was a concern for Andrew Taylor Still, MD DO as he felt that some of these medicines had little effect and at times were even more harmful than helpful.

Andrew Taylor Still, MD DO argued that the body should be viewed as a machine and if the human body was “mechanically sound” it would function well. He felt the role of a doctor was to make sure that the body was mechanically functioning at optimal levels, a belief that is still help by osteopathic doctors today.

More than 25,000,000 American seek out Osteopathic physicians for treatment. More than 75 percent of DOs in the U.S. are involved in a family practice, as opposed to 25 percent of MDs. In addition more than 52 percent of graduating DOs enter primary care, including family practice, internal medicine, and pediatrics so that they can focus on their patients as a whole.

More information can be found


*The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Osteopathic Wellness Center does not guarantee certain results.

Dr. David Johnston Dr. David Johnston is a licensed, board certified osteopathic physician with more than twenty years experience working with infants, children, and adults. He pursued his childhood dream of becoming a physician and currently has a successful private practice in Ridgefield, CT.

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