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

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

Providers come in many forms. Providers who are a doctor of medicine (MD), doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO), nurse practitioner (NP), or physician assistant (PA) can diagnose and treat illnesses, order tests, and prescribe medications. As a patient seeking medical care, this can make knowing where to start or what type of physician will best fit your needs confusing.

Lesser known are DOs, who account for 11% of all physicians in the United States, according to the American Osteopathic Association, noting osteopathic medicine is one of the fastest-growing segments in health care.

A DO focuses on an integrated, whole-person approach to preventing illness and injury.

“The whole-person approach is based on the idea of wellness,” says Dr. Richard Poirier, a DO specializing in internal medicine at Aurora BayCare. “Wellness includes lifestyle factors that impact a patient’s health or recovery process.”

Where do they practice?

DOs practice in all medical specialties, such as primary care, pediatrics, OB/GYN, emergency medicine, psychiatry and surgery. They can practice in hospital and clinical settings.

What does their training look like?

DOs have the same amount of schooling as MDs. Both undergo four years of medical school, followed by a residency program ranging from three to seven years, depending on the specialty they choose.

According to U.S. News & World Report, MDs and DOs also have similar coursework programs, including anatomy, biochemistry and physiology. However, approximately one-tenth of the DO program focuses on hands-on therapies.

In their education, DOs receive special training in the musculoskeletal system, the body’s interconnected system of nerves, muscles, and bones. This training, mixed with the use of technology, offers patients comprehensive care, according to the AOA.

How does a DO differ from an MD or PA?

While both MDs and DOs follow evidence-based medical guidelines, DOs often take a more hands-on approach called osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT, to help identify and treat various health concerns.

“The goal of a DO is to understand how the body’s systems are interconnected and address the root cause of symptoms,” says Dr. Poirier. “The OMT approach, for example, is not only used to relieve pain in the muscles and joints, such as lower back pain, but we’ve found it can also treat other health problems like headaches or sinus issues.”

Recently, an observational study comparing hospital outcomes for patients treated by MDs vs DOs was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It found that the quality and costs of care were similar across both groups of physicians.

“Whichever clinician you end up with, it’s important that you do your research to select a care team and approach that is right for you,” Dr. Poirier says.

Learn whether next steps are recommended for your back or neck problems. Or, find a doctor in Illinois or Wisconsin.

Related Posts


Subscribe to health enews newsletter

About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.