Most people have heard of or seen the initials D.O., but most do not know what they mean or understand the difference between a D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) and M.D. (Medical Doctor). Both are fully qualified doctors licensed to prescribe medication and perform surgery, both complete four years of medical education, both obtain medical education through internships, residencies, and fellowships, and both can practice in any specialty of medicine.
The biggest difference between a D.O. and an M.D. lies in their perception of the human organism and its health or lack thereof. An M.D. has been trained to treat you for a specific symptom or illness, and views symptoms in disparate parts of the body as separate, largely unrelated disease states. The D.O., on the other hand, is trained to view your body as an integrated whole as it relates to your health and wellbeing. D.O.’s receive an additional 300-500 hours of training in the musculoskeletal system, which is the body’s interconnected system of muscles, bones, and nerves that makes up two thirds of your body mass. This gives the D.O. knowledge and training to better understand how one part of your body can affect many other parts, thus finding the cause of illness, rather than merely treating the symptom or specific illness. A good example of this would be the case of the narrowing of your nerve pathway in your lower back affecting your hips, knees, ankles, and even causing pain in your toes. Most medical doctors would focus on the leg pain as a discrete event and likely prescribe painkillers and anti-inflammatories. A D.O. would focus on what is causing the leg pain.