An osteopathic physician, or D.O., is a board-certified physician who is fully licensed to practice in every state and in more than 65 countries worldwide. As licensed physicians, they diagnose, treat, prescribe medications and perform surgery.
D.O.s are trained to focus on the whole person, working in partnership with patients to help them achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention.
They practice the full scope of medicine in all medical specialties, from pediatrics to geriatrics, sports medicine to trauma surgery. They may decide to work in a hospital as a surgeon, in the emergency department or in another unit, caring for patients with injuries or life-threatening illnesses like heart failure or serious conditions like diabetes. In laboratories across the country, physician researchers look for the cause of illnesses and for new and better ways to treat all kinds of diseases and injuries. They run medical centers and teach future generations of physicians and other healthcare practitioners.
Many D.O.s decide on a solo or group practice in which they:
- Examine patients and take medical histories
- Order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests
- Prescribe and administer treatment for patients suffering from injury or disease
- Counsel patients about their health, providing advice about staying in good health, alleviating symptoms of chronic conditions, improving eating habits, and learning to break bad habits like smoking
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.
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 that focuses specifically on the musculoskeletal system.
Approximately 74,000 licensed osteopathic physicians are in active practice in the United States, and more than 20% of all U.S. medical students are studying at a college of osteopathic medicine.
Many osteopathic physicians are primary care providers. D.O.s have a strong history of serving rural and underserved populations.
D.O.s often choose to 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.
The minimum educational requirement for entry into osteopathic medical school is three years of college, although most applicants have at least a bachelor’s degree, and many have advanced degrees.
Admission to osteopathic medical schools is competitive so students should keep their GPA (overall, science, math, etc.) as high as possible. Take as many science and math courses in high school and college as possible. Consult with an academic advisor or check the prerequisites for schools of interest for courses they require for admission.
In addition, it’s important to participate in extracurricular activities to build leadership, teamwork and communication skills.
Take advantage of winter and summer breaks as well as the school year to gain clinical experience. Shadowing an osteopathic physician is a good way to learn about the profession and the experience can be placed on your application. Volunteering in a health organization is another way to learn more about being a healthcare provider and the healthcare system.
The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) created a timeline for undergraduates who are planning to apply to osteopathic medical school that is useful for college career preparation.
Personal qualities and soft skills are also important components of admission. Osteopathic medical schools are looking for students who:
- Are well-rounded
- Have good communication and interpersonal skills
- Have a record of community service
- Have a record of leadership
- Come from diverse backgrounds
- Are motivated to pursue a career in osteopathic medicine
The Osteopathic Medical 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.
Applicants will need to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). To apply, use the AACOMAS online application service to submit one application to all of the schools of interest. Currently, there are 33 colleges of osteopathic medicine. Find out more about how to apply to osteopathic medical school through AACOMAS.
Osteopathic medical students complete four years of medical school, plus three to nine 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.
Learn More About a Career as an Osteopathic Physician
- Watch the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine’s (AACOM) “Physicians for the Future” video.
- Review AACOM’s Osteopathic Medical College Information Book for details on the application process and each osteopathic college of medicine.
- Visit the Pre-SOMA Facebook page to find out more about what it is like to be an osteopathic medical student and to learn about recruitment events.
- Schedule a visit to an osteopathic college or attend recruiting events.
- Subscribe to The DO online magazine.
- Find out more about the profession on the AACOMAS Facebook or Twitter pages.
- Connect with osteopathic medical students through these organizations: