What's the Difference Between a D.O. and an M.D.?
Typically, when doctors are referenced, you’re likely to hear “M.D.” associated with the doctor’s name. And this makes sense because about 9 out of every 10 physicians in the U.S. is a “medical doctor” or M.D.
But wait … what about that other doctor?
About 1 out of every 10 physicians in the U.S. is what’s known as a D.O. or doctor of osteopathy.
Whether your doctor is an M.D. or a D.O., you can feel equally confident in the quality of your care. Both degrees mean that the doctor is a licensed physician. There are a few slight differences in training and philosophy but for patients there’s virtually no difference between treatment by a D.O. vs M.D.
Allopathic Doctors and Osteopathic Doctors
A medical doctor, or M.D., is a doctor of allopathic medicine. Though we rarely use the term allopathic in daily conversation, it refers to the “classical” form of medicine that is focused on the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases, typically by observing the symptoms presented by the patient.
A D.O. practices osteopathic medicine. In this style of practice, doctors are trained to take a more holistic view of medicine in which the focus is on seeing the patient as a whole person to reach a diagnosis, rather than observing the symptoms alone.
Keep in mind that we are talking only about how these two types of physicians are trained. Many M.D.s, particularly those at PartnerMD, also approach patient care from this “whole person” perspective.
Tell Me More about Doctors of Osteopathy
If the term isn’t familiar to you, you’re not alone. In fact, I was a pre-med student researching medical schools when I first remember hearing about this way of practicing medicine. After I learned more, I applied only to schools offering osteopathic degrees.
After medical school, both M.D.s and D.O.s must complete residency training in their chosen specialties. They must also pass a licensing examination before they can treat people and prescribe medications. The main difference is that osteopathic medical schools also require additional classes, typically about 200 hours more, on the skeletal system (osteo comes from the word meaning “bone”) and the interactions of the body with diseases.
Because of this training, D.O.s tend to address medical conditions from both a medical and lifestyle perspective. D.O.s are known for placing an emphasis on getting to know a patient’s lifestyle, family and unique concerns, which informs medical treatment.
Whether it’s a chronic disease or an everyday cough, D.O.s are likely to ask about the medication you’re taking, and also what you are eating, how much stress you’re feeling at work, and how you are sleeping. D.O.s are trained to ask questions like these to gain a full understanding of a patient’s lifestyle, which can ultimately impact their health.
(Sound familiar? This way of thinking about patients and treatment is exactly what PartnerMD offers, regardless of the physician’s degree).
Break Down the Similarities
- Both M.D. and D.O. physicians base diagnosis and treatment recommendations on scientifically-proven conclusions.
- Attend 4 years of medical school, plus a residency program ranging from 3 to 7 years.
- Are licensed by the same state licensing boards, in other words, both M.D.s and D.O.s must meet the same requirements to practice medicine.
- Can practice medicine in all 50 states.
- Are found in every type of specialty medicine.
- Follow the same undergraduate academic path – a bachelor’s degree, Pre Med coursework, and taking the MCAT.
Where Did Osteopathic Medicine Come From?
Andrew Taylor Still is known as the father of osteopathy. He argued that the human body functions well if it’s mechanically sound, like a machine, and it’s the physician’s role to improve the mechanical functioning. During the early 20th century, Still and his students continually proved the validity of the osteopathic approach.
Why I Chose Osteopathic Medicine
As a pre-med student, I was drawn to the philosophy of osteopathic medicine. I believed then, and still do, that this more holistic approach to care was more open-minded and could provide a more nuanced understanding by taking the patient’s full life into account. The programs were virtually the same in terms of training and requirements, so why not take advantage of the additional classwork? The additional knowledge could only benefit me as a physician and by extension, my patients.
Being a part of PartnerMD allows me bring this style of practice to my patients in a more hands-on and meaningful way. I have more time with patients to get to know them and their lifestyle. As a result, the recommendations I am able to make are much more personal to each individual that I treat. I have time to explain why I making a specific recommendation and how to implement it. We have the time to talk about eating clean, avoiding environmental toxins, and how to keep yourself healthy in an unhealthy world.
If you are frustrated by today’s typical healthcare experience, come meet with a PartnerMD physician like Dr. Rob Norris. PartnerMD is redefining expectations for the healthcare experience with 24/7/365 access to physician care, the most advanced physicals, and unlimited health coaching. Request a complimentary consultation today.