According to a new report, the number of osteopathic medicine physicians (DOs) in the U.S. has tripled since 2000 and risen by 85% over the past decade, reflecting both a growing interest in the field and an increase in osteopathic medicine schools across the country.
The report by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) states: “Over the last decade, the number of students attending osteopathic medical school has grown by 77%, helping lead to an overall 81% increase in the total number of DOs and osteopathic medical students in the U.S.”
In fact, many patients have been seeing a DO, perhaps for years, without even realizing it. That’s because most work as primary care physicians – internists, family doctors, and pediatricians – as well as specialists in such fields as physical medicine and rehabilitation, or physiatry; dermatology; psychiatry; and surgery.
Medical doctors (MDs) do the same, of course; in fact, MDs and DOs often work side by side. Both medical practitioners must earn a four-year undergraduate degree, after which they will attend either medical school or a college of osteopathic medicine.
Following four years there, both are required to complete an internship and residency; both may follow those requirements with fellowships in a specialty. Both are required to take a licensing exam in order to practice medicine professionally. And both practice in all medical specialties, as noted above.
So what are the differences? Basically it’s a matter of approach. While an MD will base their diagnosis and treatment primarily on the symptoms a patient is presenting, the philosophy behind osteopathy is that many ills can be the result of one’s body, mind and spirit being out of sync; “treating a person, not just the symptoms” is a commonly used phrase. DOs will frequently discuss with a patient not only their physical, but also their mental and spiritual health.
In short, it’s a more holistic approach to healthcare. A DO can use a number of techniques to help one’s body defend and repair itself, typically through physical manipulation of one’s muscle tissue and bones. Those methods can be used in conjunction with medications, radiation, movement, surgery, diet, and exercise to obtain the desired results.
I personally was drawn to osteopathy because of my interest in the musculoskeletal system, receiving my doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. As White Plains Hospital’s Director of Pain Management, I specialize in interventional spinal care and musculoskeletal care.
While the AOA is understandably pleased with the growth it has detected – “The osteopathic medical profession is one of the fastest-growing segments of healthcare,” it says – its report adds, in an important caveat, that the figure represents “more than 11% of all physicians in the U.S.”
I want to re-emphasize that neither a DO or an MD is “better” than the other. As stated above, practitioners in both fields are highly-trained professionals. And depending on the individual, either may “have the right touch” for you.