Osteopath  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotOsteopathy is based on the belief that the human body has a built-in ability to heal itself. It focuses on the relationship between the body's muscles, nerves, bones and organs. Osteopathic care is often said to "focus on the whole person."

"Part of the philosophy of osteopathic medicine is to make the patient a partner in wellness," says Wendy Fernando. She works with the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) in Maryland.

Osteopathic physicians are doctors, and they can do everything that medical doctors (MDs) do, such as prescribe medications and treat emergencies.

Osteopathic physicians differ from MDs by focusing on the whole body, rather than just a part of the body, when dealing with an illness or injury.

Currently, the United States is the only country that trains osteopathic physicians as full-fledged physicians. Osteopathic physicians have the letters "DO" after their name rather than "MD."

Osteopathic medicine is historically committed to primary care. However, osteopathic physicians (DOs) practice in many different specialty areas, including surgery, psychiatry and dermatology.

From their observations, and from talking to the patient, they develop a treatment plan. The treatment plan often involves osteopathic manipulative treatments (OMT). OMT is a non-invasive therapy that uses physical contact, such as stretching and movement of joints. It can be used with -- or sometimes in place of -- medication or surgery. It can be applied to a variety of ailments, such as migraines, back pain and asthma.

Osteopathic physicians practice osteopathic medicine. By contrast, MDs practice what is called allopathic medicine.

Like MDs, DOs are fully licensed to prescribe medication and to practice in all specialty areas. Unlike MDs, DOs receive extra training in the body's interconnected system of nerves, muscles and bones. This training provides DOs with an in-depth understanding of the ways that illness or injury in one part of the body can affect another.

"Along with the DO philosophy of patient care, being able to offer patients more with osteopathic manipulative treatment -- the hands-on manual medicine techniques we learn as part of our osteopathic medical training -- is a huge plus," says Dr. Michael J. Sampson. He's an osteopathic physician in Atlanta.

"DOs use OMT to diagnose, treat and even prevent illness or injury. Many times we are able to treat a patient without medications or decreasing their need to be on medications. DOs are helping the body help heal itself."

At a Glance

Treat the body as an interrelated system

  • Osteopathic physicians are doctors who focus on the whole body, not just a part, when treating illness or injury
  • As an osteopathic physician, you can practice in all specialties of medicine, just like MDs
  • You'll need four years of basic medical education, followed by internships/residencies to specialize