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What Is an Osteopathic Surgeon?

An osteopathic surgeon follows a different career path than traditional medicine.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 30 June 2014
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An osteopathic surgeon is one who has completed training in the osteopathic track of medical education, rather than allopathic or conventional medicine. These medical professionals hold a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree, although the training and standards are similar to those required for a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. Osteopathic surgeons can choose to specialize in a variety of surgical fields and may spend three years or more in residency and fellowships to acquire the skills they need to practice safely and effectively in the operating room.

To become an osteopathic surgeon, doctors attend an undergraduate institution, usually graduating with a degree in biology or a related field. This is followed by four years of medical school to acquire basic clinical skills and classroom training, and then a residency in surgery. Surgeons have an opportunity to focus on specific specialties like orthopedics or cardiac surgery while in training. In addition to residency, they can pursue fellowships in the field.

Fewer institutions provide training to osteopathic surgeons. For this reason, some doctors may train at an allopathic residency with MDs, rather than fellow DOs. The line between these two medical professions has blurred significantly as the standards for training are similar and the nature of practice has also grown closer. An osteopathic surgeon tends to view the body as a whole system and considers this in the evaluation and treatment of patients, but offers the same kinds of procedures and treatment options as a surgeon who holds an MD.

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Training for an osteopathic surgeon includes detailed discussions of infection control and other protocols followed in surgery to protect patients and members of the team. Surgeons also learn about how to address surgical complications and manage patient care during recovery to reduce the risk of infection and promote healing. Some may include Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM) in their practices. This involves careful placement of hands to help patients stretch, address musculoskeletal pain, and correct imbalances.

In addition to working directly with patients, the osteopathic surgeon may participate in medical research. This can include developing new surgical techniques, testing medical devices, and learning more about patient outcomes with different treatment approaches. The goal is to improve the overall standard of care. Presentation of study results can take place in trade journals as well as at annual conferences for members of the profession. Some osteopathic surgeons may pursue board certification as well as specialty credentials to be able to offer more assurances to their patients.

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