Having worked in the health care industry for almost 30 years, I can tell you that there is a definate hierarchy in the way that medical titles are perceived within the health care community.  For instance, RNs are perceived better than LPNs (or LVNs); 4 year RN grads are perceived better than 2 year RN grads; and physician’s assistants are still perceived better than nurse practitioners although that is beginning to change now that nurse practitioners are required to complete doctoral programs.  A lot of this perception is, of course, based on the amount of education each title involves, but each position has its own value and we must stop lumping all these postions into one category: NURSE.

There is also a hierarchy among physicians, although they will often deny this.  Specialists are perceived better than family practice physicians with neurosurgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons residing at the top of the list.

Doctors of Osteopathy (D.O.s) are seen at the bottom of the doctor hierarchy and were initially shunned by the medical doctors (MDs) as quacks and phonies as referenced by the article “Dubious Aspects of Osteopathy” by Stephen Barrett, M.D.  They have become increasingly more accepted as society moves towards preventive medicine and a more holistic approach to health care.

So what exactly is a Doctor of Osteopathy and what are the differences between a D.O. and an M.D.?

The practice of osteopathic medicine was founded in 1874 by a medical doctor (M.D.)named Dr. Andrew Taylor Still who was dissatisfied with the effectiveness of 19th century medicine.  He believed that many of the medications that were being prescribed were useless and that physicians should concentrate on wellness rather than illness.  His pioneered the concept of wellness and his practice also included the use of chiropractic principles, manipulation and “laying on of the hands” to promote diagnosis and healing.

Both types of physicians are licensed to practice medicine, write prescriptions and perform surgery.  Both require 4 years of undergraduate study in either pre-medicine or a related science.  Both require 4 additional years of medical training before being allowed to take their medical exams (which are comparably difficult but yet not quite the same).  Both a medical doctor and a doctor of osteopathy may elect to choose a specialty which would require between 2 and 6 years of additional training.

The difference between the two practices is really a differences in philosophy.  While medical doctors (which are based on allopathic medicine) evaluate the disease within their patient in terms of how it affects only certain parts of the body, the osteopathic doctor evaluates the disease within the body as a complex related network.

The doctor of osteopathy also receives training in the muscular and skeletal systems and is more likely to use alternative medical approaches such as manipulation, meditation, laying on of the hands, and he may recommend consults with naturopaths and/or accupuncturists.

Doctors of Osteopathy (D.O.s) are less likely to specialize than medical doctors (M.D.s) because their emphasis is on preventative care and of taking time with patients in order to assess their total health needs.  In saying this, I must also say that medical doctors are leaning towards preventative medicine much more now, as well.

When choosing a physician for yourself or your loved one, you want to be aware that both types of practitioners are equally capable and qualified, so choose one that resonates with you.  For more information on finding a good physician, see “Finding a Good Doctor for Your Loved One.”

Osteopathy has evolved since then


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