A doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) is a physician licensed to practice medicine, perform surgery, and prescribe medicine.
Like all allopathic physicians (or MDs), osteopathic physicians complete 4 years of medical school and can choose to practice in any specialty of medicine. However, osteopathic physicians receive an additional 300 to 500 hours in the study of hands-on manual medicine and the body's musculoskeletal system, called osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT).
Osteopathic physicians hold to the principle that a patient's history of illness and physical trauma are written into the body's structure. The osteopathic physician's highly developed sense of touch allows the physician to feel (palpate) the patient's living anatomy (the flow of fluids, motion and texture of tissues, and structural makeup).
Like MDs, osteopathic physicians are licensed at the state level. Osteopathic physicians who wish to specialize may become board certified (in the same manner as MDs) by completing a 2- to 6-year residency within the specialty area, often times side-by-side with MDs, and passing the same board certification exams as MDs.
DOs practice in all specialties of medicine, ranging from emergency medicine and cardiovascular surgery to psychiatry and geriatrics. Osteopathic doctors use the same medical and surgical treatments that are used by other medical doctors, but may also incorporate a holistic approach taught during their medical training.
American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine website. What is osteopathic medicine? www.aacom.org/become-a-doctor/about-osteopathic-medicine. Accessed March 15, 2021.
Gevitz N. The "doctor of osteopathy": expanding the scope of practice. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2014;114(3):200-212. PMID: 24567273 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24567273/.
Stark J. A degree of difference: the origins of osteopathy and the first use of the "DO" designation. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2014;114(8):615-617. PMID: 25082967 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25082967/.
Thomson OP, Petty NJ, Moore AP. A qualitative grounded theory study of the conceptions of clinical practice in osteopathy - a continuum from technical rationality to professional artistry. Man Ther. 2014;19(1):37-43. PMID: 23911356 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23911356/.
Review Date 11/4/2020
Updated by: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, FAAN, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.