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Osteopathic Physician (D.O.)

Overview

Osteopathic physicians (Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine or D.O.s) diagnose illness and injury, prescribe and administer treatment, and advise patients about how to prevent and manage disease. Like their M.D. counterparts, they are fully licensed to diagnose, treat, prescribe medications, and perform surgery in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Today, more than 20 percent of all U.S. medical students are studying at a college of osteopathic medicine.

In addition to using all of the tools and technology available to modern medicine, D.O.s have a strongly holistic philosophy and practice osteopathic manipulative medicine - a distinctive system of hands-on diagnosis and treatment which focuses specifically on the musculoskeletal system.

Osteopathic manipulative medicine is an outgrowth of two basic concepts that undergird the osteopathic approach to health:

  1. Structure influences function, which means that if there is an imbalance, injury or other problem in one part of the body's structure, it will affect function in that area - and sometimes elsewhere in the body, as well. 
  2. The body has an innate capacity for self-healing. Thus, the object of osteopathic manipulation is to eliminate or reduce impediments to proper structure and function, in order to promote the body's own self-healing mechanisms.

The majority of D.O.s practice general or family medicine, general internal medicine, or general pediatrics with a special focus on providing care in rural and urban underserved areas. Other osteopathic physicians choose to specialize in a wide range of practice areas, including emergency medicine, anesthesiology, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, and surgery. All D.O.s receive a strong educational grounding in primary care, building a foundation which many believe makes them better physicians, regardless of specialty.

There are approximately 63,000 osteopathic physicians in active practice in the United States. Currently, there are 29 colleges of osteopathic medicine and and four branch campuses. In addition, several new osteopathic medical schools are in the planning stages and expect to be admitting students within the next few years.

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Working Conditions

Osteopathic physicians are more likely than allopathic physicians to become primary care providers and have a strong history of serving rural and underserved populations.

Many physicians work in small private offices or clinics, often assisted by a small staff of nurses and other administrative personnel. Increasingly, physicians practice in groups or healthcare organizations that provide back-up coverage and allow for more time off. These physicians often work as part of a team, coordinating care for a population of patients; they are less independent than solo practitioners of the past.

Academic Requirements

The minimum educational requirement for entry into medical school is three years of college, although most applicants have at least a bachelor's degree, and many have advanced degrees. For an overview of typical prerequisites, see the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) website. Search for schools that provide training for this career.

Osteopathic medical school applicants must complete the AACOM medical school application. This can be accomplished by using the centralized AACOMAS online application service. Applicants also must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

The College Information Book is a valuable resource for anyone considering or applying to osteopathic medical colleges. This publication includes descriptions of all of the osteopathic medical colleges, admissions criteria, minimum entrance requirements, supplementary application materials required, class size or enrollment, application deadlines, and tuition.

Osteopathic medical students complete four years of medical school, plus three to six years of additional medical training through internships and residencies in their chosen specialties. After earning their degree, D.O.s also must pass state licensing exams and national boards.

Note: The cost of earning a degree in medicine is high, but different avenues are available for funding your education. For more information, see the Funding Opportunities section of this website. The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) has a Financial Aid page that is specifically geared toward funding opportunities for osteopathic medical students.

To connect with other osteopathic medical students, check out:

Preparation Timeline

The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) provides information on preparing for a career in osteopathic medicine. AACOM also provides a centralized application service that makes it easy to apply to multiple schools.