Today, more than 100,000 doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) are practicing in the United States, and 25% of incoming medical students are enrolled in DO programs, which is anticipated to grow substantially within the coming years. In fact, DOs are one of the fastest-growing groups of health care professionals in the U.S.

Despite the rise in the popularity of osteopathic medicine, some confusion remains as to how a DO is different from an MD. Here we attempt to provide a clear understanding of osteopathic medicine.

What is a DO?

Doctors of osteopathic medicine are fully licensed physicians who practice in all areas of medicine. DOs use a unique whole-person approach to treatment and care. They are trained to listen to and communicate with their patients to help them prevent injury and illness and stay well.

Just like medical doctor (MD) students, osteopathic physicians complete four years of medical school followed by internships, residencies, and fellowships. This training typically takes three to eight years and prepares DOs to become licensed and board-certified to practice a specialty. DOs and MDs can both legally prescribe medications and perform surgery in all 50 states.

What’s the big DO difference?

After four years of osteopathic medical school, DOs receive special training that’s focused on the musculoskeletal system, which is the body’s interconnected system of nerves, muscle, and bones. This additional education allows DOs to perform a series of hands-on techniques called Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT), in which DOs use their hands to diagnose illness and injury and encourage the body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.

From treating muscle and joint pain to providing relief for people living with asthma, migraines, or carpal tunnel, OMT can be used to complement or even replace drugs or surgery.

Quite simply, when DOs pair their understanding of the musculoskeletal system with the latest medical technology, they can provide some of the most comprehensive care available in medicine today.

Learn more about osteopathic medicine with these resources: