Two Kinds of Physicians: Allopathic and Osteopathic
There are two kinds of practicing physicians in the United States: allopathic physicians (MD's) and osteopathic physicians (DO's). Both are fully licensed physicians, trained in diagnosing and treating illnesses and disorders, and in providing preventive care.
Osteopathic medicine began as a nineteenth century health reform movement that emphasized preventive care and allowing the body to heal without overuse of medications. In the post-Civil War period in the United States many popular medicines were being used that were toxic. An MD named A.T. Still was concerned about overuse of these medications, and founded a new school of medicine that emphasized preventive care and the integration of the body's systems.
While many of the osteopathic schools still emphasize these principles in their training, in many respects M.D.’s and D.O.’s practice medicine in identical ways today. Like allopathic physicians, osteopathic physicians prescribe medication, perform surgery, and practice in specialty areas. However, osteopathic physicians are trained in some special areas in which allopathic physicians do not receive training. Students at osteopathic medical colleges receive training in Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) that MD's do not receive. OMT involves using the hands to diagnose and treat illness or injury (for more information on OMT please consult this website). Osteopathic medicine also emphasizes the integration of the entire body's systems, and many of the osteopathic schools place special emphasis on preventive medicine. DO's fill critical needs in our healthcare system, particularly as primary care providers in rural and underserved areas.
All premed students should educate themselves about both allopathic and osteopathic medicine. If you become an MD one day you will work alongside DO's in many clinical settings, so you should become informed about their training and practice. We recommend that all premed students arrange opportunities to shadow both allopathic and osteopathic physicians, and decide for themselves about which path towards becoming a licensed physician interests them the most. In fact, many students explore both options by applying to both allopathic and osteopathic medical schools, and we recommend that you consider doing so.
For more information on osteopathic medicine please consult osteopathic.org.