I will be attending an osteopathic medical school in the fall, and people tend to have a lot of questions about the type of education I will receive and what it means to be an osteopathic physician. This post will be my attempt to clear up a few questions I’ve been asked since my acceptance.
What is an osteopathic physician and how does this differ from being an MD?
There are only two types of fully licensed physicians in the United States: Osteopathic physicians who bear a D.O. after their name, and allopathic physicians who have an M.D. after their name. For the most part there really are no differences between the two. Osteopathic physicians are taught to view medicine in a holistic manner, which means if you come in for a stomach ache then the general idea is that a DO will look at all areas of an individual’s body rather than focusing on the single area of concern. I believe the osteopathic philosophy is to “treat the person and not the symptoms”. It is one of the things that I admire most about DO’s, and I do feel that it makes for a better physician. This is not to say that MD’s don’t do the same, but I believe osteopathic medicine places a lot more emphasis on this. DO’s also have an added step in their training that consists of OMT (more below), but that is pretty much it for the differences between the two. DO’s are not naturopaths or anything else that involves alternative medicine. It is just that a lot of people assume when they go to the doctor that they are seeing an MD, and I believe this adds to many misconceptions about DO’s. Plus, I have noticed that a few DO’s only refer to themselves as Dr. and leave off the DO part of their titles. I believe this also adds to the problem of the public not properly being informed about the types of physicians that do exist.
What is OMT and do all osteopathic physicians use it?
DO’s also have to learn osteopathic manipulation treatment (OMT) in medical school which is basically just using your hands to diagnose and treat a patient. This is mostly useful for patients who experience chronic pain such as muscle aches and the like. In my opinion, OMT is like combining the skills of a chiropractor with a masseuse.
Not all physicians use OMT though. In my shadowing experiences, I have never seen any of my mentors use OMT. I am mostly interested in surgery, and in this field I do not see it as being much of a benefit. Maybe some surgeons find a way to incorporate it beforehand, but I have personally never witnessed it. The only time I ever saw OMT being demonstrated was at a medical conference a few years back. I volunteered to be a dummy for it at the conference, and I must admit it did work. A couple of pulls, cracks, and body contorting and I didn’t have any shoulder pain for a few weeks after the conference.
Does an osteopathic physician receive training in a hospital?
Believe it or not, my boss asked me this question when he first found out where I was accepted. I have no idea where else a physician would be able to receive their clinical training from, so this is just a weird question to me. Like MD’s, DO’s attend school for four years with two years of classroom training and two years of clinical training. Yes, the clinical training does take place at hospitals and does include hospital rotations just like our MD counterparts.
Is it harder to specialize or gain acceptance as a DO?
I have not yet completed medical school to answer this question fully, but from my readings I have found that there are some obstacles in specializing in competitive fields, but this is mostly due to there still being a few misconceptions about osteopathic medicine. I believe that if an individual works hard and achieves high board scores then any field is possible to attain.
As for the acceptance, looking at forums such as the Student Doctor Network, it would appear that there is a strong bias against DO’s. Oddly enough, in my interactions with MDs they have been very accepting of DO’s and told me that they are happy to work with them. One told me that a doctor is a doctor, and I shouldn’t be concerned with the negative stuff that I have read. The DO’s that I know have also expressed the same, although they did say that there was a strong bias a long time ago but this is no longer the case.
Why I did I choose DO?
For me, it never really mattered what initials are behind my name. I want to be the best possible physician that I can be, and osteopathic medicine seems to offer more of this for me. I love the holistic approach to medicine, and the DO’s that I do know are highly respected. I also like that osteopathic medical schools take a holistic approach to viewing their applicants. I am more than just my numbers, and I love that the osteopathic medical schools take this into consideration. I am also into breaking down barriers and exploring new heights, and osteopathic medicine will give me the chance to do this and gain more recognition for osteopathic physicians. There are a multitude of other reasons why I prefer the DO over MD route, but I think this pretty much sums it up for now.