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DO What?

Biology Club meeting at noon! Free PIZZA!

Yep, that is how I was introduced to Osteopathic Medicine. I was a freshman at Washburn University in Topeka, KS, and not even in the Biology Club, but free pizza sounded good. And, I was so hungry my stomach felt like it was already starting to digest itself! While sitting with a friend in the common area of the science center, the smell of pizza wafting by, we just had to check it out! The clipboard reached me, and I pondered signing up, thinking "Do I really want to be in the Biology Club?" Well, I was certain that I really wanted to be a doctor, so the logical answer was to sign up (not to mention the free food was a plus). That was the start of a long and very close relationship with the Biology Club.

I sat there hearing "Treat the whole patient....don't just use your pen to treat the patient....learn how to use your hands to treat the patient." What? Like a chiropractor? Am I hearing this correctly or is my stomach digesting my brain as well. I raised my hand and asked, "So are you a real doctor?"

I asked that question and here I am; a real doctor....just like that guy. He wasn't actually a doctor yet, but he was a very passionate medical student trying to get us interested in osteopathic medicine. And that he did! Not only did I sign up for the Biology Club, but I also decided that I was going to be an osteopath, which is short for osteopathic physician.

When deciding on medical schools, there are two different tracks to consider, and that decision needs to be made early on in the educational process. At the end of both of tracks, you will become a doctor, however, you will have different letters behind your name: DO or MD. When most people think of doctor, they think MD. My intent here is to explain the difference in order for you to be able to make an informed decision the next time you have to choose a doctor. Since I'm a DO and you're reading my blog, I hope you will lean towards choosing a DO.

Dr. Andrew (A.T.) Still was the founder of Osteopathic Medicine. He started out as a physician working under his father in Kansas, and was quite involved in the Kansas militia during the Civil War. In 1859, he lost his first wife due to child birth complications. Then in 1864, he lost 2 sons to spinal meningitis, and shortly thereafter, he lost a daughter to pneumonia. He returned home in 1864, but these experiences led him to discard the mainstream medical practices, such as bloodletting, for better ways of healing his patients.

Dr. Still met with vigorous opposition along the way. His church denounced his new hands-on techniques, and his brothers were embarrassed by his "crazy talk". However, he felt the body had an innate ability to heal itself. He believed the person, as a whole, was made up of 3 parts, a mind, a body, and a spirit. These 3 parts must be functioning together to make the whole, and when one was off, disease could manifest. This is the foundation of osteopathic education. Dr. Still left Kansas and went to Missouri hoping his new ideas would be more welcome there, and they were. He opened the first osteopathic medical school in Kirksville, MO, in 1892, called A.T. Still University. This school still exists and has a wonderful Museum of Osteopathic History. I had the opportunity to visit, and highly recommend it if you're in the area.

(This is the original one room school house where osteopathic education began, currently located in the Museum of Osteopathic Medicine, image borrowed from gallery)

Now that you know a little osteopathic history, let's take a look at the differences between an MD and a DO.

Are there many differences? At first glance, no. However, as shown in the following figure, you will find a big difference in the number of schools available, the educational, and training expectations of osteopathic and allopathic medical students and physicians.

There are currently 141 allopathic (MD) medical schools and 33 osteopathic (DO) medical schools in the US. The DO schools are located in 31 states teaching at 48 different institutions. When I was applying to medical school, I was asked multiple times if I was going to osteopathic school because I didn't get into allopathic school. As you can see from this figure, it is actually harder to get into osteopathic school because there are fewer slots. Interestingly, the entrance requirements are pretty much the same.

As you can see, both schools follow a very similar path. The biggest difference is the osteopathic manipulative education. With this, we are taught to use our hands to diagnose abnormalities within the body that may be impeding lymphatic, blood, or nerve flow to distal parts of the body, which can slow or completely inhibit the healing process. Dr. Still believed, and as an osteopath we are taught, that structure and function go hand in hand; to fully treat the person as a whole you must first see how the structure and function interrelate between the mind, body, and spirit.

The other big difference is that DOs can choose from either an osteopathic or allopathic track for training and certification after graduating medical school; MDs can only choose the allopathic path. Why, do you ask, would an osteopath choose an allopathic track? That is a great question, and there are many reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that there may be more residency programs for the specialty they are interested in. However, by 2020, all residency programs are scheduled to be dual certified, meaning they will train both osteopaths and allopaths. However, there will be a few who will still choose to continue with an osteopathic emphasis, meaning that their residency will offer more training in osteopathic manipulation. My residency program was structured with dual certification in family medicine with an emphasis in osteopathic manipulative medicine, and I wouldn't have had it any other way. Even though there are little differences in the education, this one small addition to the education of the osteopath makes a huge difference in way the treatment plan of patients is carried out.

Would I have done anything different? Well, as far as choosing to be an osteopath, ABSOLUTELY NOT! Osteopathic teachings are inherent to my way of thinking and seeing the world around me. I use these skills daily to treat my patients and perform osteopathic adjustments for many different reasons. I recently opened my own direct primary care clinic, Accomplished Health and Wellness, which will allow me the time to incorporate adjustments into the treatment plan for somatic complaints, as well as, acute illnesses.

So now you know that DO is not a "hair-do" or something that you are "supposed to do", it is short for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. With this information, my hope is that you can make an informed decision on the type of doctor to choose.

Find a DO in your area at:

Click the Doctors that DO and you can search in your area for local DOs.

What is direct primary care, you ask? Well, that is for another blog. Stay tuned, and you will find out.

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