Hands on Healing: Osteopathy FAQ

Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Symbol

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What is a DO?

A DO is a doctor of osteopathy. The discipline of osteopathy was founded by Andrew Taylor Still in the late 1800s. He was a practicing physician and surgeon who served in the Civil War and felt that many of the medical treatments administered at that time were ineffective and sometimes harmful. Given that some of the common practices of that era included blood-letting and mercury infusions, it’s easy to understand his point of view.

After the Civil War, Still spent 30 years studying the structure of the human body. In doing so he became convinced that the structure and the internal functioning of the body are interrelated, which is one of the tenets of osteopathy. The other tenets include: The human is made of a triune–body, mind, and spirit–and in order to attain health, we must address all three. And finally, the body has an innate ability to heal itself and we should employ treatments that facilitate this rather than interfere with the body’s natural tendencies.

Another interesting fact about Dr. Still: During the time when educating women was considered controversial in allopathic schools, Dr. Still believed that women were as capable as men. In 1892, he founded the school of osteopathy and encouraged women to train in osteopathic medicine alongside men.

What is OMT?

Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) is the practice of using osteopathic techniques to remove restrictions in the bony and soft tissues to restore balance. The goal of these techniques is to reduce pain and improve function of both the structure (musculoskeletal system) and the internal organs of the body. OMT usually includes soft tissue adjusting and joint mobilization through gentle but specific movements.

OMT can be very quick depending on the issue being addressed, and it can be used in most patient encounters. For example, a DO might perform a quick technique on the ribs to help with a cough or cold. OMT is a practical treatment in most specialties.

So do all DOs practice OMT?

No, not all DOs practice OMT, but some do! We have a few who do at One Medical.

If you don’t practice OMT, how does being a DO impact the way you practice?

Relative to MDs, DOs have a slightly different approach to diagnosis. A DO might be better equipped to assess the musculoskeletal system, for example, or to see the ways in which musculoskeletal problems could be contributing to other diseases, and will then make treatment recommendations accordingly.

Are DOs trained similarly to MDs, then?

Like MDs, DOs complete four years of post-collegiate education, but they attend osteopathic medical schools, whereas MDs attend allopathic medical schools. At the end of those four years, both DOs and MDs enter residency programs, where they receive specialty training in areas such as internal medicine and family medicine. These residencies can last from three to seven years, depending on the specialty. Some DOs complete an allopathic residency (the kind MDs attend), but most DOs attend osteopathic training programs that have been approved by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). In fact, certain states prohibit DOs from practicing medicine if they haven’t completed an osteopathic-approved internship. At the end of that training period, most MDs and DOs become board certified. Some DOs sit for both the allopathic and osteopathic boards.

In short, after medical school, the licensing, residency training, board certification and privilege-granting processes are very similar (and just as rigorous) for both MDs and DOs.

Is there anything an MD can do that a DO absolutely can’t do?

Nope! There isn’t.

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