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Osteopathic Physicians

Osteopathic physicians and medical doctors are very similar, completing nearly identical training and licensing requirements, and providing comprehensive medical care to patients. One difference is that osteopathic physicians spend several hundred hours studying the musculoskeletal system and training in osteopathic manipulative medicine, a hands-on type of bodywork that is similar to chiropractic medicine.

Training
Osteopathic physicians are licensed to practice medicine and surgery in the U.S. and more than 50 other countries. Osteopaths complete the same education requirements and training as medical doctors, receiving a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), instead of the Doctor of Medicine, or MD. These are the only physicians in the U.S. who are fully trained and licensed to perform surgery and prescribe medicine.

Both DOs and MDs:

  • complete four years of college and four years of medical school
  • complete another three to eight years of training through internships, residencies and fellowships (these often prepare them to practice a specialty)
  • pass examinations to obtain state licenses
  • practice in accredited and licensed health care facilities
  • provide comprehensive primary or specialized medical care to patients of all ages

Additionally, DOs receive up to 500 additional hours of special osteopathic training, studying the musculoskeletal system. This allows DOs to emphasize the whole person, and the connection between the musculoskeletal system and disease and symptoms.

Practice
Osteopathic medicine has a history spanning more than 125 years. Traditionally, the practice relied on manipulating bones and joints to diagnose and treat illness, but modern practice uses public health and biomedical principles that are virtually the same as the approach used by MDs. The roots of osteopathic medical care hold true today: the physicians focus on examining and treating the whole person, not just the symptoms. They understand how the body's systems connect and affect each other, and work with patients to adopt healthy lifestyles.
More than half of osteopathic physicians practice in the fields of internal medicine, pediatrics and obstetrics/gynecology, but many DOs choose to specialize. Osteopathic trained physicians are now practicing in every area of medical specialty, including

Exams
Your DO will examine you by discussing your medical history and other aspects of your life, such as home, work and family. A complete physical exam will include any necessary blood work and other tests. DOs also will conduct a structural exam, checking your spine, balance and posture, along with your joints and muscles. Treatment plans often include recommendations for drugs and surgery, as warranted.

Some osteopathic physicians use hands-on techniques such as stretching and providing pressure on muscles and joints, though this is used less commonly by DOs than in the past.