WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Many people do not know that there are two types of fully licensed medical doctors in the United States - one receives an M.D. degree, “Medical Doctor,” and the other receives a D.O. degree, “Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine.” For each, the license to practice medicine is equivalent.
The Business and Professions Code for the State of California states:
“M.D. and D.O. Degrees: Equal status: it is the policy of this state that holders of M.D. degrees shall be accorded equal professional status and privileges as licensed physicians and surgeons.”
Medical school education for M.D.s and D.O.s is equivalent, with the exception that D.O.s not only receive training in pharmacology (prescribing medication), basic medicine, and surgery, but also receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system, a vital component of the human body. Like an M.D., a D.O. can specialize after basic medical training is completed, and become, for instance, dermatologist, surgeon, pediatrician, gynecologist, or any other specialty. So why have two separate degrees for what would appear to be the same thing? To understand this, we need to look at the history of medicine in this country.
A hundred and fifty years ago, medicine was barbaric. Bloodletting, arsenic, and mercury “treatments” were the mainstay of medical doctors. Dr. Andrew Still, an M.D. practicing in the 1800s, stood by and watched helplessly as his young children die of meningitis. This traumatic event was a turning point for Dr. Still. For the next 10 years, he studied the human body and better ways to treat disease.
“Seek Health in Your Patients, Any Fool Can Find Disease.” This was Dr. Still’s philosophy. He strongly believed that if a body was put in correct alignment, given good nutrition and if circulation was improved, the body could better heal itself. He believed also that the physician’s role was to assist the patient to a healthier condition, not to be a dictator of prescribed remedies. Dr. Still stressed preventive medicine, good nutrition and the importance of the musculoskeletal system, including correct alignment of the bones (hence the term osteopathic: osteo from Latin, meaning “bone,” and pathic from Greek, means “suffering”), as well as muscle balance and improved nerve, lymph, and blood flow to enhance the body’s natural healing ability.
Dr. Still’s philosophy became the School of Osteopathy, now known as Osteopathic Medicine, named after its original emphasis on the musculoskeletal system. Osteopathic medicine went on to father physical medicine and rehabilitation, physical therapy, and the Western healing arts that involve using hands to improve body mobility and function.
As western medical science advanced with the development of the germ theory and the discovery of antibiotics, osteopathic medicine followed suit, providing education to its students in medicine and surgery as well as osteopathic treatment. Today, both M.D. and D.O. medical school programs are nearly identical-with the same intense coursework-except that D.O. medical students are required to take additional coursework that covers the musculoskeletal system, physical medicine, and osteopathic philosophical principals. Medical residency programs are mixed with D.O.s and M.D.s working alongside each other, and in many specialties Board certification exams are the same for both D.O.s and M.D.s, therefore, the term Osteopathic has a philosophical origin but, for the modern D.O., is a bit of a misnomer because today’s D.O. is a complete medical doctor, with the added benefit of this extra training.
“I chose Osteopathic medicine because it aligns with my concept of healthcare: embracing preventative medicine and nutrition, where the doctor and patient work together toward the common goal of excellent health. And of course, being an Osteopathic physician has given me tremendous insight into the musculoskeletal system, and ultimately led me to Prolotherapy.” - Dr. Alderman