What is a DO?

While licensure and education requirements are the same for both allopathic (MD) and osteopathic physicians, DOs receive further training in the musculoskeletal system—the interconnected system of nerves, muscles and bones that makes up two-thirds of the body’s mass. This training provides osteopathic physicians with a better understanding of how an illness or injury in one part of the body can affect other parts, and teaches the use of the hands to diagnose illness and injury and to encourage the body’s natural tendency toward good health.

The majority of osteopathic physicians practice primary care, with many providing care in small communities and rural areas. Patients find that osteopathic physicians bring something extra to medicine, practicing a “whole person” approach that embraces the mind, body, and spirit. The specialized training DOs receive allows them to offer the most comprehensive care available in medicine today.

The History of Osteopathic Medicine

Osteopathic medicine was developed in 1874 by an MD named Andrew Taylor Still who was dissatisfied with the effectiveness of 19th century medicine. Because Dr. Still felt many medications of his day were ineffective and even harmful, he began an in-depth study into the attributes of good health in order to better understand the process of disease.

As a result of his studies, Dr. Still founded a philosophy of medicine focusing on the unity of all body parts. He identified the musculoskeletal system — the system of bones and muscles that makes up about two-thirds of the body’s mass — as a key element of health. He recognized the body’s ability to heal itself and stressed preventive medicine, eating properly, and staying fit.

Dr. Still pioneered the concept of “wellness” more than 100 years ago. Today, osteopathic physicians carry on his tradition, combining modern medical treatments with suggestions about lifestyle and attitude changes that don’t just fight illness, but prevent it as well.

Just as Dr. Still brought his new philosophy of medicine to the people of the Missouri frontier in 1874, today’s osteopathic physicians often serve populations in need. Although DOs can specialize in every recognized area of medicine, from neonatology to neurosurgery, more than half of all osteopathic physicians practice in primary care areas, such as pediatrics, general practice, obstetrics/gynecology, and internal medicine. Additionally, many DOs fill a critical need for family doctors by practicing in small towns and rural areas.