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What’s the difference between an MD and a DO?

infographicMDallopathic medicineDOosteopathic medicineHealth & Wellness • 5 min read • Jun 29, 2015 12:00:00 AM • Written by: Brad Ranks


It’s getting harder and harder to remain a true troglodyte in the age of computers and smart phones. Welcome to the twenty-first century, right? And, along with all the handy tech driven gadgets we’ve come to love (and depend on) comes a whole new lingo too. Quick test: do you know what the following abbreviations mean…. LOL, ROFL, OMG, TMI? If you’re a reasonably tech savvy person in this day and age you probably did well on that little quiz; but, can you also tell me what both MD and DO mean in the world of medicine? You’re right… if you guessed that the abbreviations represent the two types of medical degrees in the United States. But, do you know exactly what the differences are between the two types of medical degrees?

MDs practice “allopathic” medicine, which is focused on the diagnosis and treatment of specific human diseases and illnesses while DOs practice “osteopathic” medicine, which is centered around a holistic point of view focusing on the patient’s whole body to reach a diagnosis rather than treating a particular symptom or problem.

Modern allopathic medicine dates back to early seventeenth century Europe. Physicians who traveled to North America formed and began developing the first medical societies in North America in the mid eighteenth century – eventually regulating medical practice in the colonies by 1760. The first medical college in the United States, the medical college of the Medical Society of the County of New York, was founded March 12, 1807, while the American Medical Association (AMA) was later founded in 1845. Shortly thereafter the AMA created educational standards for the degree of Doctor of Medicine (MD). Since then, AMA certified MD programs have continued to grow and evolve with time and MD degrees are currently offered at 137 medical schools in the United States and seventeen more Canadian medical schools.

Osteopathic medicine was first developed by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still in 1874. Dr. Still founded osteopathic medicine based on the philosophy that all bodily systems are interrelated and depend on each other. Because the osteopathic philosophy focuses on a approach that acknowledges all the body systems are interconnected, osteopathic medicine emphasizes the importance of the musculoskeletal system in reflecting and impacting the overall condition of all the other bodily systems. The first DO medical program was established by Dr. Still at the school of osteopathic medicine in Kirksville, Missouri in 1892. Since then, similarly to MD programs, DO programs have developed and grown with time and there are currently thirty-one different DO programs offered in forty-four locations in twenty-nine different states.

There are some important differences between DOs and MDs. First, due to osteopathic medicine’s emphasis on the musculoskeletal system, osteopathic schools require up to 200 hours of musculoskeletal manipulation training on top of the required medical curriculum. Also, MDs and DOs take different licensing exams. MDs take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), while DOs take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX), but can also opt to take USMLE.

But, despite the differences in general philosophy and licensing examination requirements, physicians licensed as doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs), like their MD counterparts, pass national and/or state regulated medical board exams in order to practice medicine; and, both MDs and DOs use all of the same tools modern medicine provides – including prescribing medicines and performing surgeries. Also, similarly, students entering either a DO or an MD medical college typically have already completed a four-year bachelor’s degree program with an emphasis on scientific courses. Both DOs and MDs complete four years of medical school prior to residency or continuing on to a specialty.

All in all, while the curriculum, training, and general philosophy of MDs and DOs may differ somewhat, the two branches of medical degrees work well in tandem to provide patients with both exceptional overall preventative care, as well as, top notch diagnosis and treatment for specific ailments and illnesses.

You can learn more about the differences between MDs and DOs when you visit your doctor or by viewing our infographic below. And, if the digital world of smart phones and texting lingo has you down – NP – just remember in this digital world you can now take advantage of MeMD; a national-network of MDs, DOs, PAs, and NPs who are available to connect with patients for convenient online doctor’s visits.


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Brad Ranks