What Is the Difference Between an MD and a DO?

Reviewed on 1/27/2021

What are MDs and DOs?

An MD is a Doctor of Medicine who treats conditions with medications or surgery. A DO is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine who focuses on whole-body healing and disease prevention. The difference between an MD and a DO is that an MD studies allopathic medicine and a DO studies osteopathic medicine.
An MD is a Doctor of Medicine who treats conditions with medications or surgery. A DO is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine who focuses on whole-body healing and disease prevention. The difference between an MD and a DO is that an MD studies allopathic medicine and a DO studies osteopathic medicine.

An MD is a Doctor of Medicine. A DO is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. The differences between MDs and DOs are often subtle. MDs and DOs both learn how to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases and injuries. MDs focus on treating specific medical conditions with medication and/or surgery. DOs focus on whole-body healing and have a holistic approach, with or without traditional medication/alternative therapies. DOs are believed to emphasize more on disease prevention. However, disease prevention plays an important role in the work of both MDs and DOs. MDs are more in number than DOs, but the number of students becoming DOs is rising. Despite the differences between the two types of doctors, both are professionally qualified with hands-on experience. DOs meet the strict requirements of the medical board before they receive their medical license.

Both MDs and DOs are licensed to practice in the U.S. and Canada.

What is the difference between allopathic and osteopathic medicine?

There are two main philosophies in medicine: allopathy and osteopathy.

  • Allopathy: MDs learn allopathy in medical school. This is what is considered “modern medicine.” Allopathic medicine believes in using medication or performing certain procedures to treat a particular illness. The diagnosis of diseases is made by clinically examining the patients, performing blood and/or radiological tests and other diagnostic procedures. Most medical schools teach allopathic medicine.
  • Osteopathy: DOs learn osteopathy in medical school. Compared to allopathy, osteopathy focuses more on treating the body instead of specific medical conditions. Osteopathic medicine teaches students to evaluate and treat patients using the same procedures as allopathic medicine. One important distinction is that DOs also learn to use one additional specialty called osteopathic manual medicine (OMM). This practice is sometimes called osteopathic manipulative treatment/therapy or osteopathic manipulation. Osteopathic manipulative treatment involves using the hands to diagnose, treat or prevent injuries or illnesses, such as blood pressure, asthma, indigestion and insomnia. However, not every DO uses every technique they have learned in practice.

Are MDs and DOs trained differently?

MDs and DOs both learn how to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases and injuries. They receive almost the same hours of training. They both go through four years of medical school, following which they complete a residency program that can be as long as seven years. The main difference between the two courses is that DOs undergo another additional 200 hours of coursework. During this time, they focus on the bones, muscles and nerves and their effects on overall body health. They also receive hands-on training. DOs may also take additional courses or classes to study holistic or alternative therapies. Preventive medicine is taught in both allopathic and osteopathic medicine, but osteopathic medicine has more classes on preventive medicine.

Both MDs and DOs are required to pass a national test to obtain a license to practice. MDs have to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). DOs have to take  the Comprehensive Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX), but can choose to take the USMLE as well. Both tests cover the same subject matter.

Should I see an MD or a DO?

It is possible to tell which type of degree a doctor has by the letters attached to their name. If they went to an allopathic medical school, they would have an “MD” (Doctor of Medicine) after their name. If they went to an osteopathic medical school, they would have “DO” (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) after their name.

Make sure you go to a licensed professional for your ailments.

Both MDs and DOs are equally qualified to diagnose and treat a patient. If you are looking for a doctor who has a more hands-on approach and may be more open to alternative treatment options, a DO may be ideal. However, an MD may also be open to alternative treatment options.

Most DOs choose to be primary care doctors, while MDs typically specialize in a particular field of medicine (cardiology, pediatrics, dermatology, neurology, etc.) or surgery (orthopedic surgery, ENT or ear, nose, and throat surgery, plastic surgery, neurosurgery, etc.) Hence, it would be easier to find an MD, who is a specific type of doctor, rather than a general physician. Ultimately, choosing the right doctor comes down to being comfortable with the doctor, having a good trusting relationship with the doctor and the doctor who can meet your health goals. Licensed MDs and DOs are equally qualified to provide medical care and choosing one over the other is a personal preference.

QUESTION

What percentage of the human body is water? See Answer

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

References
Medscape Medical Reference

American Medical Association


American Osteopathic Association


Health Solutions From Our Sponsors