What is a do (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine)?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) is a physician with training that differs slightly from that of a medical doctor with an MD. He or she is equally educated, with four years of undergraduate training, four years of medical schools, and additional years if he or she chooses to specialize. The DO has a slightly different approach to treating the patient than the MD, however.

A DO usually uses a holistic approach to treating patients.
A DO usually uses a holistic approach to treating patients.

This medical professional is trained to evaluate the person in a holistic way. The goal of the DO is not simply to treat problems as they arise, but to prevent problems by evaluating the total health and health risks of the patient. This evaluation may include not only looking at quantifiable risk factors for disease but also evaluating the person in terms of his or her home life, work life, and stress level. In addition, disease is evaluated in terms of how it affects the entire body, not simply a few parts of it.

Doctors of osteopathic medicine tend to spend more time with patients.
Doctors of osteopathic medicine tend to spend more time with patients.

The DO is trained specifically in understanding the muscular and skeletal system and how they may relate to disease or pain management. Sometimes, he or she will practice manipulation of the spine, similar to the work done by chiropractors, in addition to other more traditional medical treatments.

A doctor of osteopathic medicine may sometimes practice manipulation of the spine, which is similar to work done by chiropractors.
A doctor of osteopathic medicine may sometimes practice manipulation of the spine, which is similar to work done by chiropractors.

This professional may practice any field of medicine, including psychiatry, surgery, pediatrics, or obstetrics, but most train to become general practitioners. The DO will also pass examinations that are almost identical to those taken by an MD, so their ability to practice medicine competently is equal to that of the MD.

A DO may practice any field of medicine, including pediatrics.
A DO may practice any field of medicine, including pediatrics.

Some argue that the holistic approach of the DO is better since it tends to mean the doctor takes more time with patients and may have a slightly improved bedside manner. Doctors trained in either field vary greatly in their ability to listen and to be watchful over a patient’s total health, however.

A doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) may specialize in pediatrics or surgery.
A doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) may specialize in pediatrics or surgery.

Often, bedside manner in a general practitioners’ office is greatly influenced by how many patients he or she must see each day. A high volume of patients means less time to listen regardless of the doctor's philosophical background. Many patients report greater satisfaction with a DO if they feel they need to a few more minutes with a physician than is generally allowed in a regular office visit, however. Those with chronic pain also often find this type of medical professional may be of more help when he or she performs spinal manipulation, which may help reduce pain.

A DO may evaluate a patient's stress level and determine what effect it is having on that person's health.
A DO may evaluate a patient's stress level and determine what effect it is having on that person's health.
A DO should have an excellent bedside manner.
A DO should have an excellent bedside manner.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@Breadcrumbs51: I have Anthem BlueCross HMO and it covers my DO as my primary care physician. She is so much better than the MD that I previously had as my primary. My DO found my thyroid nodules and it ended up being thyroid disease which I am now being treated for. Thank God I switched my PCP from an MD to a DO.


As a foreign medical student in the US, It is my opinion that getting a DO might not be the best option for returning to one's country. One might have some problems getting the degree recognized/converted for licensing, due to the ignorance of the home country's medical bureaucracy, especially in the less developed countries.

Most only know about MD not DO, even though one can go blue in the face trying to explain to them that there is virtually no difference in their medical training. Many of their minds are closed to reasoning and their thinking is very narrow.

Just a caveat, and this is only my own considered opinion, and I hope I am wrong.

I welcome any counterpoints to this by anybody who has had any experience converting their American DO degree to a foreign MD degree.


Can an OD specialize in Psychiatry? Would that be good way to go, or would it be better to go into a traditional MD model school for that specialty?


The real truth behind MD and DO is to look at their credentials. No one wants to recall their junior year of college during the time of "Grade point averages", research, and MCAT scores.

Quite frankly, MD schools are harder to get into as the top students compete for those programs. Thus, MCAT averages are higher from MD programs than DO programs. Does this mean that an MD is better than a DO? Not necessarily.

However, it is easier to get accepted to a DO program. Facts are facts people.


Oh good grief. Some of you are so ill informed. My physician is a DO who specialized in family practice. He is covered by all the same insurances as MDs. I like him because he has a holistic approach and does spinal manipulations, which I happen to believe are very helpful.

NPs are nurse practitioners. They did not go to medical school. They are RNs with a master's degree or more, and specialized.

By the way, I am an RN and have worked for over 25 years. I do know what I'm talking about.


Some of the best doctors that I have seen had D.O. behind their name.


I'm a DO who is board certified in internal medicine and I find a lot of the comments here hilarious.

Listen, there are a multitude of degrees out there. If you want a fully-licensed physician who can practice anything from family practice to neurosurgery, the credentials in the U.S. need to be MD or DO (note: foreign grads who get licensed here have their foreign degrees like M.B., M.B.B.S., or D.M. converted to an M.D.).

Just because there are similar letters in a degree designation, does not mean that the professions are somehow related. So thinking that I, a DO, knows anything about optometry (O.D.) or oriental medicine (O.M.D.) is nonsense. For the record, I know nothing about alternative medicine either.

I know it is confusing, but we've been around for over 120 years and are not exactly new kids on the block. We're just a minority of the physician population.

Consider yourselves educated. And stay healthy.


reply to #17: You won't trust a "D.O." because you went to an "OMD"? D.O.'s and M.D's have similar education except that D.O.'s also do osteopathic manipulation.


how does the pay differ for md and do?


A DO is the osteopathic equivalent of the allopathic MD. Only DOs and MDs are licensed to practice the full range of medicine in the U.S.


Actually, believe it or not, nurse practitioners have about seven years of education. Some nurse practitioners may have more if they specialize and become certified in areas.

Nurse practitioners may spend more time with patients and treat based on a holistic approach. They may try to find the underlying cause rather than just treat symptoms. They may educate more on prevention.

However, a really good DO or MD should be doing the same.

In my experience, nurse practitioners do more. Keep in mind, in most cases the insurance companies push MD's, DO's, and NP's do speed things up.


re: #17 An O.D. is not a OMD or oriental medical doctor. I never even heard of an OMD. An OD practices the same as an MD and has the same education. The only difference you may see in some O.D.'s are they may take a little more time with you, investigate into all factors that may be contributing to health problems (diet, exercise, stress, environment), and they have OD after their name instead of MD. Otherwise you probably wouldn't know the difference.

They are fully capable of caring for patients. There are good and bad D.O's just like there are good and bad M.D.'s.


#17: A doctor of optometry = OD

DO = doctor of osteopathic medicine

MD = doctor of medicine.

Both MDs and DOs are physicians a.k.a. medical doctors who can be general practitioners, specialists, surgeons, etc, all of whom must be licensed by the medical board of his or her state.

Anyone with another degree like the OMD you mention is not a licensed physician and can't prescribe medication. Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners sometimes have prescribing rights, but they are not fully licensed physicians either (if you're curious, PAs train in the MD/DO model but for only two years instead of 4).

Bottom line: if you're looking for what you traditionally know as a "doctor," you can see either a DO or MD.


I have just returned from a DO for the first time. I didn't realize she was a DO until I got home. It was no different than any other MD I have seen. I am on disability for avascular necrosis, severe traumatic arthritis and chronic, severe pain. She took my medicaid no problem. As a matter of fact, she was set up by medicaid as my primary doctor.


I have numerous health problems and have seen MD's and DO's. Like others have said, there isn't much of a difference. It's really up to the doc.

What made me look this article up was someone told me my podiatrist was a DO and not a real doctor I was so insulted because he's my favorite doctor.

A few of my other docs are DO's and the only way I notice is on their stationary. You can have wonderful or horrible doctors with either title. The doctor's personality and overall knowledge is more important. It's like trying to pick a favorite sports team. It's personal and up to the individual.


I don't trust a D.O. because I made a mistake of going to get a treatment from this guy with the title "OMD" and I thought he was a real Medical Doctor. It turned out he was carrying a title spelled out in full as "Oriental Medical Doctor". I was like what the? No wonder he couldn't even prescribe me any medications for my pain. He even tried to convince me to buy his created herbal and "traditional" medicines.

So I would recommend people to stick with a MD, not DO? I checked with my friends and none of them has ever heard of such a title. DO actually stands for Doctor of Optometry or eye doctor. A DO is never qualified as a personal physician because a DO is a specialist.


A D.O. is a modern-day magician who can heal you with the use of incantations and the wave of a wand.

The reason there are so few D.O.s in comparison to M.D.s is simply because magic does not run in everyone's veins. There are, however, several extremely powerful "half-blood Princes," if you will, that have successfully completed their D.O. training and are quite successful today. Dr. 90210 (Dr. William Kirby) is a D.O. who has successfully mastered the art of "plastic surgery" (as it appears to non-magic folk) without the use of a wand. In fact, J.K. Rowling based Harry Potter and Hogwarts off of a D.O. in her immediate family and the Osteopathic School that he attended.


Responding to number #13: Does that mean an MD is exactly the same as a NP? Since MDs and DOs are the same, except for DOs doing manual/manipulative medicine.


I went to a DO today and had to look it up as I had no clue what it was. I noticed a very big difference. He spent about five minutes longer with me than the average physician. He already had a clue as to what I had, "a really bad case of strep", just by my symptoms.

It was impressive since I also suffer occasionally from Epstein Barr and when I get it, it feels the same but is more physically draining. The strep just has more mucus in my head. I was impressed, likely made my week.


A DO sounds just like what a nurse practitioner(NP) does except without the muscle/skeletal focus.


I would imagine it is hard to find insurance that will cover a DO, isn't it? I wish it wasn't, but it's so hard to find any type of "alternative" medicine that is covered.

A DO is the exact same thing as an MD with a different degree title. Just like dentists have DDS and DMD. Just a different degree, guys -- not alternative medicine or anything.

Source: I am a third year DO medical student.


For a person who is a diabetic and already leaning towards having to take insulin, should he see an endocrinologist?


Is a chiropractor also an osteopathic doctor?


no it's not hard to find insurance that cover DOs as they are looked at the same as MDs. they are just harder to find because there are less of them. it is not considered "alternative medicine" and DOs are not the same as MDs. yes they have additional training in manual medicine but the culture of it is quite unique and it encompasses more than just the musculoskeletal system.


I am looking for a DO family doctor in Bethesda, MD. Any suggestions on how to find them?


Okay, let us set the record straight. Say it with me 3 times. A DO is hte same as an MD. A DO is the same as an MD. A DO is the same as an MD. You see, they are both physicians covered by the same insurance plans, have had the same education (a small minority provide manipulative treatment like chiropractors, but if you are interested in this, you have to ask if they do it, as most do not), they prescribe the same, they specialize the same, etc. In fact, with the exception of the first 2 years of medical school, most do 3rd and 4th year DO students do clinical rotations side by side with MD students. In most residencies, they also train side by side. So the only real difference is that they are governed by different political organizations - which means nothing to the patient. Put all the ideas aside. Holistic medicine (a famously quoted misnomer) is individual physician specific and can apply or not apply to both MDs or DOs. This is simply a way of thinking. You would be best served by not looking at the degree DO or MD, but rather whether you like the doctor, their bedside manner, their style, their staff, their facilities, their thoroughness, their creativity, etc.


is a DO doctor also a cardiologist?


DO's are fully licensed physicians who have the same training as MD's, except they also have training in hands-on manual medicine techniques. Because DO's are fully licensed physicians, they are covered by insurance, just the same as MD's.


I am looking for a DO who is trained in orthomolecular treatments for patients with the diagnoses: schizophrenia and bi-polar

I would like to speak with doctors in the Pasadena, Calif area (or) in southern California.

Thank you


Since both MDs and DOs bill using the same codes in regards to insurance, a plan that covers an MD will also cover the DO. So when if comes to choosing a medical doctor (MD or DO) you don't choose them based on their degree, rather you choose them based on location, bedside manner etc.


Actually DOs are medical doctors who often work in family practice or general practitioner settings. There rates tend to be the same as MDs. From a personal perspective I have several DOs that are providers on my health plan; so I don't think it's that problematic. I think greater trouble may come because there are simply fewer DOs then MDs.


I would imagine it is hard to find insurance that will cover a DO, isn't it? I wish it wasn't, but it's so hard to find any type of "alternative" medicine that is covered.

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