What is the difference between a D.O. and an M.D.?

If you’re dreaming of becoming a physician, you might be wondering what the difference is between a D.O. and an M.D. We can help.

While there are many similarities between a D.O. vs M.D., there are a few differences to note as well. We will take you through the ins and the outs of each degree, from D.O vs M.D. studies for students to salaries for graduates.

An M.D. is a doctor of medicine, whereas a D.O. is a doctor of osteopathic medicine. M.D.s typically practice allopathic medicine, which is sometimes known as conventional medicine, to treat all parts of the body, usually with medicines, surgery, or both.

D.O.s, on the other hand, practice osteopathic medicine. To do so, osteopaths consider not just a person’s symptoms, but also the body in its entirety for diagnosis, treatment, injury and disease prevention, and overall wellness.

What is a D.O. vs M.D.? Key similarities between D.O. vs M.D.

While D.O.s and M.D.s are similar in nature, their practices and educations are a little different.

Whether you earn a D.O. vs M.D., you’ll become licensed and fully trained to practice medicine in the state in which you work. D.O.s attend and graduate from osteopathic medical schools, whereas M.D.s attend and graduate from allopathic medical schools.

Life after graduation is also similar for M.D. vs D.O.s. Each must complete residencies for additional training, pass licensing exams, and meet the same criteria before they can practice medicine.

Where do D.O. vs M.D. practice?

As medical or allopathic doctors practice in all specialties of medicine, so too do osteopathic physicians. From emergency medicine and cardiovascular surgery to psychiatry and family medicine, you will find D.O.s and M.D.s practicing in every field. Medical and osteopathic physicians each may perform surgery, prescribe drugs, and more.

In addition to their education and training, D.O.s and M.D.s each may earn board certification in a medical specialty or subspecialty of their choice. Whether a physician is a D.O. vs M.D doesn’t matter—they must meet the requirements of a certifying board. It should be noted that every physician, regardless of whether they are a D.O. vs M.D., must be licensed to practice medicine. Board certification is a voluntary process, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

If either type of doctor chooses to become board certified, physicians in the U.S. can garner board certification through the American Osteopathic Association or the American Board of Medical Specialties.

So what is the difference between a D.O. and an M.D.?

While we’ve outlined several similarities between a D.O. and M.D., there are also a few differences. Allopathic medicine treats patients for symptoms and diseases with drugs, radiation, or surgery. Osteopathic medicine, on the other hand, examines and treats patients’ bodies holistically rather than individual symptoms or maladies alone.

The philosophy surrounding medicine also differs for a D.O. vs M.D.. While each realm of medicine is deeply rooted in science, M.D.s tend to rely on lab testing and treatment with medication, whereas D.O.s tend to take a more holistic approach to patient care.

Perhaps the biggest difference between a D.O. vs M.D. is that D.O.s use osteopathic manual manipulation (OMM) or therapy (OMT) as part of their treatment methods. OMM is a distinctive system of hands-on diagnosis and treatment that focuses on the body's interconnected system of nerves, muscles, and bones.

To perform these manual techniques, D.O. programs include about 200 hours of training that M.D. programs do not. These OMM and OMT techniques typically include using resistance and pressure on joints, muscles, and connective tissues to reduce and alleviate pain, increase the range of motion, support the structure of the body so it may properly function, and more. These therapies can complement medications and other treatments or serve as an alternative to medications or more invasive interventions.

Another point that highlights what is the difference between a D.O. and an M.D. is that osteopathic physicians tend to focus on prevention more often than M.D.s do, tuning in to how a patient’s lifestyle and environment can impact their wellbeing. This means that D.O.s strive to help you attain and maintain a healthy mind, body, and spirit—not just free you of your symptoms or ailments.

D.O. vs M.D. salary and job outlook

Now that you know a little more about what is a D.O. vs M.D., you might be wondering about the difference between their salary. The salary for physicians and surgeons is among the highest of all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In 2020, physicians earned a median wage of $208,000 or more per year.

And while D.O. vs M.D. salary is the same, so is the demand for both types of physicians. As our population grows and ages, the U.S. could see an estimated shortage of 37,800 to 124,000 physicians in primary and specialty care by 2034, according to an Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) report.

Primary care alone—including family medicine, general pediatrics, and geriatric medicine—is expected to see an estimated shortage of between 17,800 and 48,000 physicians, according to the AAMC. Non-primary care specialties could see shortages of between 21,000 and 77,100 physicians.

To help meet this demand, colleges of osteopathic medicine are graduating more and more students each year, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM). If you are interested in becoming a D.O. vs M.D., now is an excellent time to begin planning for your future.

Become a D.O. at Des Moines University

Still wondering whether you should pursue a D.O. vs M.D.? Des Moines University’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine program will help you develop the clinical, interprofessional and communication skills you need to deliver quality care for your patients.

To help you take the next step, we can walk you through the requirements for medical school and how to get into the best program for you. Plan for your future now and explore what is the difference between an M.D. and a D.O. at DMU and prepare for a career in medicine.

Our osteopathic medical degree program will allow you to:

  • Conduct career-defining graduate research, potentially publish your work in peer-reviewed journals, and present your research across the country.
  • Train and practice in state-of-the-art labs with cutting-edge tools and technology.
  • Participate in learning experiences outside the classroom through DMU’s Global Health Program, which offers research internships, service trips, clinical rotations around the world and more.
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