Improving our healthcare future

What is Osteopathic Medicine?

Andrew T. Still, an MD who was dissatisfied with the effectiveness of 19th century medicine, pioneered osteopathic medicine. He was one of the first in his time to study the attributes of good health to better understand disease. Dr. Still's philosophy focuses on the unity of all body parts and identifies the musculoskeletal system as a key element of health. He introduced the idea of returning the body to health through manipulation based on a thorough understanding of the body's systems.

In 1892, Dr. Still obtained a state charter to establish the first school of osteopathic medicine in Missouri. Despite a legislative attack on the osteopathic profession mounted by allopathic physicians (MDs), osteopathic medicine grew. Vermont was the first state to recognize osteopathic medicine in 1896. In 1897, the American Association for Advancement of Osteopathy (now the American Osteopathic Association) was founded in Kirksville, Missouri. 

The DO Difference

DOs are complete physicians who, along with MDs, are licensed to prescribe medication and perform surgery in all 50 states. But DOs bring something extra to the practice of medicine. Osteopathic physicians practice a "whole person" approach to medicine, treating the entire person rather than just the symptoms. With a focus on preventive health care, DOs help patients develop attitudes and lifestyles that don't just fight illness, but help prevent it, too.

DOs are trained to be doctors first, and specialists second. The majority of DOs are family-oriented primary care physicians. Many DOs practice in small towns and rural areas, where they often care for entire families and communities.

Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine

DOs receive extra training in manipulating the musculoskeletal system – your body's interconnected system of nerves, muscles and bones that make up two-thirds of your body mass. This training in osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) provides osteopathic physicians with a better understanding of how an injury or illness in one part of the body can affect another.

OMM is incorporated into the training of all osteopathic physicians. With OMM, DOs use their hands to diagnose injury and illness and to encourage your body's natural tendency toward good health. By combining all other medical procedures with OMM, DOs offer their patients the most comprehensive care available in medicine today.

Osteopathic Curriculum

The osteopathic curriculum involves four years of academic study, with an emphasis on preventive medicine and holistic patient care. DOs serve a one-year internship, gaining hands-on experience in family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics-gynecology, pediatrics and surgery. This experience ensures that osteopathic physicians are first trained as primary care physicians – even if they plan to pursue a specialty. Many DOs then complete a residency program in a specialty area, which typically requires two to six years of additional training.

Fast Facts About Osteopathic Medicine and Education

  • Approximately 60 percent of practicing osteopathic physicians practice in the primary care specialties of family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology.
  • Many DOs fill a critical need for physicians by practicing in rural and other underserved communities.
  • More than 4,800 new osteopathic physicians enter the workforce each year. Approximately 74,000 fully licensed active osteopathic physicians currently practice the entire scope of modern medicine.
  • More than 20 percent of medical students in the United States today are training to be osteopathic physicians.

Source: American Osteopathic Association (AOA), American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM)