What is a DO?

If you’re like most people, you’ve been going to physicians ever since you were born, but you’re unaware that some or all of them could have been osteopathic physicians, also known as DOs. You may not even be aware that there are two types of complete physicians in the United States—DOs and MDs.

The fact is that both DOs and MDs are fully qualified physicians licensed to prescribe medication and perform surgery, provide maternal and child healthcare, and more.

DOs and MDs are alike in many ways

  • Students entering both DO and MD medical colleges typically have already completed four-year bachelor’s degrees with an emphasis on scientific courses.
  • Both DOs and MDs complete four years of basic medical education.
  • After medical school, both DOs and MDs obtain graduate medical education through internships, residencies and fellowships. This training lasts three to eight years and prepares DOs and MDs to practice a specialty.
  • Both DOs and MDs can choose to practice in any specialty of medicine—such as pediatrics, family medicine, psychiatry, surgery or ophthalmology.
  • DOs and MDs must pass comparable examinations to obtain state licenses.
  • DOs and MDs both practice in accredited and licensed health care facilities.
  • Together, DOs and MDs enhance the state of health care available in the U.S.

While DOs and MDs have many things in common, osteopathic medicine is a parallel branch of American medicine with a distinct philosophy and approach to patient care. DOs can bring an extra dimension to your health care through their unique skills.

The Osteopathic Approach

For more than a century, osteopathic physicians have built a tradition of bringing health care to where it is needed most:

  • Approximately 60% of practicing osteopathic physicians practice in the primary care specialties of family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology.
  • Many DOs fill a critical need for physicians by practicing in rural and other medically underserved communities.

In addition, these modern-day pioneers practice on the cutting edge of medicine. DOs combine today’s medical technology with their ears to listen caringly to their patients, with their eyes to see their patients as whole persons, and with their hands to diagnose and treat patients for injury and illness.

About Osteopathic Medicine

You are more than just the sum of your body parts. That’s why doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) practice a “whole person” approach to health care. Instead of just treating your specific symptoms, osteopathic physicians concentrate on treating you as a whole.

Osteopathic physicians understand how all the body’s systems are interconnected and how each one affects the others. They receive special training in the musculoskeletal system so that they better understand how that system influences the condition of all other body systems. In addition, DOs are trained to identify and correct structural problems, which can assist your body’s natural tendency toward health and self-healing.

DOs help patients develop attitudes and lifestyles that don’t just fight illness, but also help prevent disease. Millions of Americans prefer this concerned and compassionate care and have made DOs their physicians for life.

Osteopathic Physicians

To become a DO, an individual must graduate from one of the nation’s osteopathic medical schools, accredited by the American Osteopathic Association’s Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation. This accreditation is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
The curriculum at osteopathic medical schools consists of four years of academic study. Reflecting osteopathic philosophy, the curriculum emphasizes preventive medicine and comprehensive patient care. Throughout the curriculum, osteopathic medical students learn to use osteopathic principles and osteopathic manipulative treatment to diagnose illness and treat patients.
After completing osteopathic medical school, DOs obtain graduate medical education through internships, residencies and fellowships. DOs specialize in all areas of medicine, ranging from such primary care disciplines as family medicine, general internal medicine and pediatrics to such specialized disciplines as surgery, radiology, oncology and psychiatry.

Complete Care

DOs are complete physicians, fully trained and licensed to prescribe medicine and to perform surgery. Many DOs incorporate osteopathic manipulative treatment into the care they provide. With OMT, osteopathic physicians use their hands to diagnose illness and injury and encourage your body to heal itself. By combining all other appropriate medical options with OMT, DOs offer their patients the most comprehensive care available in medicine today.


*Source—American Osteopathic Association