The Differences Between an Osteopath and an M.D.

Education and Training | Differences in Practice and Treatment | When to Choose One Over the Other

The Differences Between an Osteopath and an M.D.When you are sick or injured and need to see a doctor, it may come as a surprise to you that not all physicians are the same. In the United States, over 10% of all medical doctors are doctors of osteopathic medicine (aka osteopaths), meaning they have D.O. degrees. The remaining 89% of physicians have doctor of medicine degrees, carrying the title of M.D. They perform many of the same procedures and fill many of the same roles, but there are some specific differences.

What Are the Differences in Training and Education Between a D.O. and an M.D.?

A doctor who receives an M.D. degree has completed training at an “allopathic” medical school. Allopathic medicine, also known as biomedicine, conventional medicine, or Western medicine, seeks to treat injury and illness by responding to symptoms with pharmaceutical products, surgical procedures, and technology, including radiation. A D.O. has attended an osteopathic medical school and completed the same curriculum and received the same clinical training as an M.D. In addition, D.O. candidates take the same specialty board exams.

The primary difference in training between a doctor of osteopathy and a doctor of medicine is that a D.O. also completes extensive training in OMM, or osteopathic manipulative medicine (also referred to as OMT, or osteopathic manipulative technique). OMM involves the application of gentle pressure to soft tissue, muscles, and joints, which is believed to trigger the body’s natural healing powers. Osteopaths typically have more than 200 hours of OMM education as a part of their medical training.

How Do D.O. and M.D. Physicians Treat Patients Differently?

Both M.D.s and D.O.s are licensed to prescribe medication and may be trained to perform surgical procedures. In addition, both may employ technology in the treatment of injury or illness. The difference is that, unlike a medical doctor, an osteopath typically integrates OMM treatment or massage into their practice, using their hands to treat a broad range of conditions, including muscle pain, arthritis, upper respiratory infections, asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Are There Times When You Should Choose One Type of Doctor Over the Other?

The choice of M.D. versus D.O. is essentially a personal one—you can get quality care from either type of doctor. While both can provide sound care, there are more M.D.s that specialize, while D.O.s more often open primary care practices. If you need advanced care, you may find that you have more choices of doctors with M.D. degrees. The bottom line, though, is that you need a doctor you trust, with whom you can effectively communicate, and who will honestly answer your questions in a timely manner.

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