DO vs. MD - what's the difference?

Health care jargon explained

Many patients wonder about the difference between an MD and a DO. You may have never even realized that DOs exist or you may be curious as to whether they have the same credentials to treat you as an MD does.

In truth, DOs are on the rise; there has been more than a 158% increase in DO graduates over the last decade (in contrast to just a 17% increase in MD grads). As DOs become increasingly popular options for primary care doctors, it can be beneficial to understand what makes these doctors unique. Let’s dive in!

DO vs. MD: Understanding the two

The letters M.D. stand for Medical Doctor or Doctor of Medicine. MD’s are focused on allopathic medicine, meaning the use of medications and surgery to treat symptoms and illness. To become an MD in the U.S. a medical school accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) must be attended.

DOs are Osteopathic Doctors who receive a medical degree from an osteopathic school. Where MDs must attend schools accredited by LCME, DOs must be accredited by the American Osteopathic Associate Commission within the Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA).

DOs focus on a more holistic approach to medicine and follow an osteopathic medicine philosophy. This means that they consider all factors — from a patient’s nutrition and environment and more — when they diagnose and treat medical conditions. They also employ a homeopathic approach looks into using the body’s natural response system to encourage healing or uncover root causes of illnesses. DOs focus on the four Tenets of Osteopathic Medicine, which have been approved by the AOA House of Delegates as policy:

  • The body is a unit; the person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit.
  • The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health maintenance.
  • Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.
  • Rational treatment is based upon an understanding of the basic principles of body unity, self-regulation, and the interrelationship of structure and function.

Similarities between DOs and MDs

Despite the differences in focus and treatment philosophies, there are several similarities between DOs and MDs. For starters, both follow the same academic path before medical school: earn a bachelor’s degree, complete Pre Med coursework, take the MCAT. Both DOs and MDs also attend four years of medical school and complete a residency program that may last from three to seven years.

Both types of physicians are also licensed by state licensing boards, meaning they are both required to meet the same requirements in order to practice medicine within a given state. Both MD and DO physicians base their diagnoses and treatments in scientifically-proven data and information. Additionally, both types of doctors may work in specialty medicine.

Main differences between DOs and MDs

While not terribly different, there are some distinctions between DOs and MDs. For one, medical students studying at osteopathic schools (DOs) must take an additional 200 hours of training to learn manipulation techniques of the musculoskeletal system, known as osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). This is a hands-on method that promotes healing through the manipulation of muscles and joints. Additionally, many DOs are primary care physicians, while MDs often focus on a specific type of medicine like Orthopedics or Cardiology. There are also slight differences in the licensing exams, with DO students taking the the Comprehensive Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) and MD medical students taking the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE).

Currently, DOs tend to obtain osteopathic residencies, which are accredited by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), and MDs match to MD residences, which are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). However, that will change in the middle of 2020 when these systems will merge and both fall under the ACGME. That means that both MDs and DOs will match to their residencies through the ACGME and train side by side.

Decent offers primary care for free

We believe that the doctor-patient relationship should sit at the center of healthcare. Decent’s Pathfinder and Trailblazer plans are built around this belief. This means that you enjoy personalized care with your primary care doctor as often as you like with $0 co-pay or out-of-pocket costs. Same or next-day appointments and telemedicine (video calls) are available, along with 24/7 phone, texting, and email support for your health. You can choose from both MDs and DOs when selecting your primary care physician to find the best fit for your care.

Most DPC models require you to pay a flat monthly fee to your primary care provider in exchange for access to a menu of primary care options. We handle all that for you and your doctor. We pay their monthly fee under our plans, so you can just pick up the phone and call your doctor when you need them. That means you enjoy free primary care.We also realize that access to a primary care doctor alone is often not enough. We offer two distinct plans built around the needs of our self-employed members so they get the best care possible—without breaking the bank. Get a quote for one of our plans today and see if one might be a great fit for you.

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