Training to Become a Doctor of Osteopathy
Hopeful doctors of Osteopathy (D.O.) must complete a four-year bachelor’s degree program, complete a series of college level science courses and an examination, before earning acceptance to an Osteopathic Medical School.
After acceptance to a College of Osteopathic Medicine, a D.O. student completes 4 years of basic medical training, which includes didactic and clinical experiences.
After completion of this training, D.O.s complete graduate medical education that includes rotating internship, residencies and sometimes fellowships which all take place in a clinical setting. All in all it’s a minimum of 11 years of training.
M.D. vs D.O.
M.D.’s ( medical doctors) and D.O.’s ( doctors of osteopathy) have the essentially the same training, practice and legal status in the United States. The time spent and much of the actual content in both types of medical schools is the same. Up to and including Internship and Residency, the structure of classes and clinical experiences is the same at both types of medical schools and in residency programs. The licensure examinations and practice requirements are also equivalent. training in a College of Osteopathic Medicine is equivalent under law to an M.D.s training. In choosing a specialty, both types of doctor can attend any residency for their training, such as family practice, psychiatry, surgery, obstetrics, cardiology, and neurology. The most significant difference in the training between M.D.s and D.O.s is that in the first two years of medical school Osteopathic Medical students are given additional training in the philosophy and practice of Traditional Osteopathy. Students who choose to pursue this training can elect rotations in Traditional Osteopathic clinics during their third and fourth year and take continuing medical education courses or select a neuromusculoskeletal residency training.
D.O.s must pass examinations such as the medical boards, at each level of training and successfully complete continuing medical education and re-licensing exams.
Who is your doctor?
D.O.s and M.D.’s can practice in any medical environment such as hospitals, clinics, private practice settings and the military. Most graduates from osteopathic medical schools go into allopathic medical careers, such as pediatrics, emergency medicine, surgery, internal medicine and so on. The only way you would know your primary care doctor, neurologist, or cardiologist is a D.O. is if you see their credentials, or they have the letters D.O. on their name tag.
There is some reciprocity – M.D.’s are able to take continuing medical education courses in traditional osteopathic medicine, so very occasionally there is an M.D. who uses their hands to treat and diagnose, just like a traditional osteopathic medical doctor.
Training outside of the United States
Outside the U.S. Osteopathy has a different course of training. In Australia, Canada, Europe and Japan, Osteopath’s are not trained as physicians. They do not complete a residency (post graduate training) and their training is more focused on anatomy, somatic dysfunction and manipulation. It does not include training in prescribing medicine, diagnosing disease or medical specialties.
For more information on training to become an osteopathic physician, please visit American Osteopathic Association website.