What Does DO Stand For In Medical Terms? 2020 Update

Updated: July 1, 2020

What does DO stand for? Well, DO stands for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and individuals with this degree are physicians, fully licensed to practice medicine. DOs take a holistic approach to medicine. Instead of concentrating solely on the symptoms of pain, illness or disease, they focus on the interrelationship between body systems, social, and environmental factors. If you're hoping to learn more about osteopathic doctors, including the education requirements, philosophy, and career outlook of those with DO degrees, look no further.

This blog will cover the following:

What is osteopathic medicine?

DO education

Career outlook and salary

How do I apply?

Is a DO degree right for me?


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What is osteopathic medicine?

Many people are familiar with allopathic medicine, those with MDs, as it's the more common doctoral degree of the two. You've likely noticed directory boards in a medical facility and upon closer inspection, you'll see the credentials following each person's name. In many cases, MD will be seen a lot more often than DO. While both DOs and MDs have near equivalent training, rights, and responsibilities, DOs only make up 11% of all doctors in the US. So, what is osteopathic medicine and why do students choose to pursue this field?

Founded in the late 1800s by an American physician, Dr. Andrew Still, osteopathic medicine takes into account the interconnection between the body systems while approaching medicine holistically. Prevention is a large part of osteopathic medicine, and osteopaths consider lifestyle and environmental factors when treating patient symptoms. In addition to utilizing science and technology in practice, osteopaths complete specialized training to perform Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM) or treatment (OMT), which involves disease, pain, and illness treatment and prevention through physical manipulation. This hands-on technique can be used on its own, or in combination with drugs or surgery and focusses on the interconnectivity between the body's muscles, nerves, and bones. Osteopaths work to promote the body's innate, natural ability to heal and self-regulate. For this to happen, osteopaths believe that the fluids and liquids in the body, including blood, digestive secretions, and spinal fluid, must be able to circulate freely. Any obstructions in the form of curves, twists or misaligned tissues, bones or organs will impede this flow and for this reason, osteopaths will focus on treatment and manipulation of the body as a whole.

DOs are governed by The Tenets of Osteopathic Medicine which are used to express the philosophy behind osteopathic medicine. If you're applying to DO schools, you must understand these principles:

1. The body is a unit; the person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit.

2. The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health maintenance.

3. Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.

4. Rational treatment is based upon an understanding of the basic principles of body unity, self-regulation, and the interrelationship of structure and function.

DO Education

Osteopathic medicine is growing in popularity across the United States and roughly 1 in 4 medical students now train to become osteopathic physicians. In the past 10 years, the profession has grown 63% and there are now over 120,000 DOs in the US. Just like MDs, DOs begin by completing their undergraduate studies before heading to medical school to complete their doctoral degree. They'll spend four years at an accredited college of osteopathic medicine and will then participate in internships, residencies, and fellowships. This normally takes between four to eight years, depending on the residency and fellowship length, allowing for fully trained DOs after a total of 8-12 years. In order to practice medicine and proceed into residency training programs, DOs have to pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX). The COMLEX tests examinees on their knowledge of osteopathic medicine, clinical skills, and other essential aspects required to practice as an osteopathic physician. This exam is very similar to the MD USMLE exams, which require the completion of three levels for full licensure. Osteopaths have the option to apply to either allopathic or osteopathic residencies, as long as they complete the necessary pre-residency exams. There are 38 colleges of osteopathic medicine throughout the US across 33 states, so there are many opportunities for prospective students to complete the necessary training to become DOs.

Career Outlook and Salary

Primary care is a major focus for osteopathic doctors with 31% practicing in family medicine, 18% in internal medicine, and nearly 7% in pediatrics. You'll notice that within the core values and mission statements at many osteopathic medical schools, the main goal is to produce excellent primary care physicians, which will help address the national deficit. There are, however, DOs practicing in a wide range of fields outside of primary care including emergency medicine, anesthesiology, obstetrics & gynecology, surgery, and even psychiatry. DOs practice across the US and Canada, with many choosing to live and work in the same communities they did their studies and training in. DOs have a large impact on the health and well being of US populations and approximately 20% work within medically underserved areas and populations. Pennsylvania and California have the highest percentage of active DOs followed closely by Florida, New York, and Michigan. Interestingly, osteopathic medical training is not only growing across the US, but it's also creating a younger cohort of doctors. In fact, 66% of all DOs that are actively practicing are under the age of 45.

Most DOs practice in clinics and hospitals, but some also work for the federal government and in outpatient care centers. DOs graduate with all the skills and responsibilities of MDs, plus they possess approximately 200 hours of training in osteopathic manipulative medicine. The fact that DOs bring this patient-centered, whole-body approach to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment makes them valuable members of society. The mean wage for DOs is approximately $208,000, with DOs and MDs making roughly the same amount of money in the same specialties. Allopathic doctors, however, often choose higher-paid specialties such as surgery and anesthesiology which is why the numbers, at times, appear skewed.

How do I apply?

If you're interested in becoming an osteopathic physician, you'll be required to meet GPA, MCAT and all other medical school requirements in order to be considered for admission. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), the average GPA and MCAT score for accepted students is 3.54 and 503.8 respectively. In addition to having competitive grades and test scores, successful students must complete all necessary medical school prerequisites and application components. Check out medical school personal statement examples to give you some ideas for your own essay. You should focus on making yourself a well-rounded applicant with thorough knowledge of osteopathic medicine, and demonstrated clinical experience, leadership skills, community service and extracurriculars for medical school. If you want to pursue a DO degree, you'll complete one DO school application which will be sent to your chosen osteopathic medical schools through AACOMAS, the centralized application service in the US. Be sure to check medical school application timelines as deadlines vary between schools, but generally primary applications are due between January and March and medical school secondary essays between March and April. Just like MD applicants, DO candidates also go through a rigorous interview process, so make sure to get ready by reading some common medical school interview questions and MMI questions

>>Check out some successful AACOMAS personal statement examples<<

Is a DO degree right for me?

While some students knew they wanted to be a physician from the moment they put bandaids on their teddy bears, not everyone knows right away that they want to pursue medicine, let alone osteopathic vs allopathic medicine. For many, the initial interest in osteopathic medicine began through an encounter or experience with an osteopathic physician or discussions with a school's faculty member or current medical student. Osteopathic medicine is becoming increasingly popular as a career choice and every year the number of applicants applying to DO schools increases. In fact, last year, 21,584 applicants competed for 7672 seats at osteopathic medical schools, representing a 2.8% increase over the previous year.

When considering whether a DO vs MD degree is right for you, think about what it means to be a DO. Do your interests and passions line up with the principles of osteopathic medicine? Do you believe in treating patients holistically? Do you think of the body as being dynamic and interconnected with many factors? Does the OMM technique speak to you? Will you enjoy a patient-centered, hands-on approach to medicine? Just like becoming an MD, as a DO you'll be able to prescribe medicine, order tests and perform surgeries, so don't think that one pathway is better than the other or has different skills and responsibilities. DOs simply view aspects of medicine differently and strive to focus on the person, not the problem. So, when you're considering if it's best suited for you, spend some time reflecting and be sure to gain experience shadowing an osteopathic doctor. If you're wondering how to ask to shadow a doctor and how many hours of shadowing are required for medical school, review our blogs for everything you need to know. In addition to shadowing, engage in discussions with osteopathic doctors and medical students to gain more insight into the profession. Take any opportunities that come your way and be sure to source your own so you can learn as much as possible about the highlights and challenges an osteopathic doctor faces. Once you've done your research and have gained hands-on experience in the field of osteopathic medicine, you'll be on your way towards determining if the career is suited for you.

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