Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine

A doctor of osteopathic medicine is a physician who uses a whole-body, patient-centered approach to medicine. DOs believe in the connection of the mind, body and spirit. They work with the philosophy that all body parts and systems are interrelated and affect one another. They also believe in the power of touch to help heal.

What is a doctor of osteopathic medicine?

Just like a medical doctor (MD), a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) is a physician licensed to practice medicine. The difference is, DOs bring a whole-person, patient-centered approach to healthcare. They partner with you to help you stay healthy and get well.

DOs are trained to look past your symptoms to understand how environmental and lifestyle factors may impact your health and well-being. They follow the latest science and technology, but they also consider other options that may go along with traditional forms of medicine, such as medication and surgery.

Doctors of osteopathic medicine receive training in your musculoskeletal system, which is made up of your muscles, nerves and bones. They combine this knowledge with the latest advances in medical technology to give you comprehensive medical care. DOs work with the philosophy that all systems of your body are interconnected. They believe all systems work with each other and affect each other when it comes to health and healing.

DOs put a heavy focus on preventive healthcare and wellness. They strive to help you not just be free of symptoms, but truly healthy in mind, body and spirit. They also recognize the role of using their hands to diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses. They use their highly developed sense of touch to feel all of the structures of your body with your consent.


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What are the four tenets of osteopathic medicine?

The four core beliefs, or tenets, that osteopathic doctors stand by provide the foundation for the whole-person approach they use toward medicine. The four tenets include:

  • The human body is a unit made up of a mind, body and spirit.
  • The human body is able to self-heal, self-regulate and maintain health.
  • Function and structure are equally interrelated.
  • Rational treatment is based upon a clear understanding of the basic principles stated above.

What does a doctor of osteopathic medicine do?

Doctors of osteopathic medicine practice medicine in a similar way to medical doctors, diagnosing and treating illnesses, injuries and diseases. But they incorporate osteopathic and holistic methods and spend a lot of time focusing on preventive healthcare as well. To help you feel your best, doctors of osteopathic medicine assess your:

  • Diet.
  • Environment.
  • Lifestyle.
  • Activity level and exercise habits.
  • Mental and physical health.
  • Stress levels.
  • Sleep habits.

DOs practice in all medical specialties, including:

  • Primary care.
  • Pediatrics.
  • Ob/Gyn.
  • Emergency medicine.
  • Psychiatry.
  • Surgery.
  • Geriatrics.

Almost 57% of DOs practice in primary care, with 30% practicing as family physicians, 19% as internists and 7.5% as pediatricians.


What is osteopathic manipulative treatment?

DOs use a hands-on treatment method called osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). Another name for OMT is osteopathic manipulation.

They use osteopathic manipulative treatment to treat bone, tendon or muscle pain due to structural imbalance. OMT also treats a wide range of other medical conditions. Osteopathic doctors also use OMT to prevent and diagnose disease in order to help your body function better.

Using a number of different OMT techniques, DOs apply gentle pressure to manipulate your joints, soft tissues and muscles. This treatment encourages your body to heal by itself. It assures your muscles and bones are aligned and balanced properly.

How do you become a doctor of osteopathic medicine?

To become a doctor of osteopathic medicine, you must complete four years of osteopathic medical school after completing a bachelor’s degree. At an osteopathic medical school, you’ll learn about preventive medicine and comprehensive patient care.

In addition to standard medical school instruction, osteopathic doctors receive 300 to 500 hours in the study of hands-on manual medicine and the body’s musculoskeletal system (osteopathic manipulative treatment). You’ll learn about the interrelated unity among all of the body systems and how each works with the other to promote overall health and wellness. This training increases a DO’s understanding of how an illness or injury in one part of the body can affect another. The training teaches DOs how to effectively use their hands to diagnose and treat people. The goal is to reduce or eliminate the need for medications. It encourages your body to naturally heal itself.

After graduation from medical school, DOs can go on to specialize in an area of expertise. They must complete internships, residencies and fellowships. This training takes an additional three to eight years.

Like all doctors in the U.S., DOs must be licensed to practice medicine at the state level. Depending on the state, licensure typically requires the completion of a medical licensing exam given by the state licensing board.

DOs can earn board certification when they achieve expertise in a medical specialty or subspecialty. They must meet the requirements of a specialty-certifying board. Osteopathic doctors in the U.S. can become board-certified through the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Osteopathic medicine is one of the fastest-growing areas in healthcare in the United States. About 1 out of every 4 medical students is enrolled at an osteopathic medical school. They currently make up about 11% of all physicians in the United States. DOs treat your body as a whole and believe in the connection of your mind, body and spirit. If you want a doctor that’ll take a more holistic approach, you may want to consider looking for a doctor of osteopathic medicine.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/11/2023.

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