Trump has, or had apparently, the coronavirus, did you know that? Who am I kidding? You definitely knew that. However, did you know that the doctor of the president, Sean Conley, came under criticism in recent days for not being a real doctor? Yes, many people don’t actually believe Sean Conley is a real doctor because he is a DO and not an MD. Well, that is absolutely ridiculous because a DO is a real doctor, and it’s not up for debate. 

Such allegations have persisted for a while now, quite shockingly, I must say, when you consider the work DOs put into becoming doctors. So, I’m saying this right at the beginning. It is unforgivable to say DOs aren’t real doctors. Don’t even think about it. However, many people don’t know the difference between DOs and MDs, if any difference exists at all, that is. This is forgivable. And this article will attend to that.

Straight to business then. There aren’t major differences between MDs and DOs when you consider that they are both licensed medical practitioners who can practice medicine and prescribe drugs in all fifty states in the United States. Another similarity between them is that they pretty much receive the same training. They both attend four years of medical school, and they both take a residency program that typically lasts between one and seven years. 

The main, and perhaps, most significant difference between DOs and MDs is their philosophies on practicing medicine. DOs and MDs attend different medical schools, and it is the medical schools they attend that determine whether they become a DO or an MD. There are two primary philosophies in medicine, which are osteopathy and allopathy. 

Allopathy is the more common of the two and is usually considered as traditional medicine or modern medicine. It focuses on treating specific medical conditions, typically diagnosed by medical tests, using medications. Osteopathy, on the other hand, takes a more holistic approach when treating people. They regard the body as a whole and treat it as such rather than just treating specific symptoms. Are you bored yet? Please, don’t be. I can’t exactly make medicine any more fun than this.

Upon graduating from an allopathic medical school, the doctor takes on the MD title, which stands for a medical doctor or doctor of medicine. Meanwhile, doctors from osteopathic medical schools take on the DO title, which stands for doctor of osteopathic medicine. Did I already mention that they are both licensed medical practitioners? You know what, I’ll just do it again. They are both licensed across all fifty states to practice medicine. This totally squashes allegations or stories about whether DOs are real doctors or not. 

In fact, I find it quite insulting that some people think DOs, like Sean Conley and I, aren’t real doctors. Yes, I am also a DO, and yes, I am also a real doctor. It is one thing to not like a person; it is another thing entirely to rubbish and discredit the effort they put in their profession. That’s a digression, but one I needed to make. Let’s get back on track. What were we discussing? Oh, yes. The difference between osteopathy and allopathy.

Another difference between osteopathic and allopathic medical schools is that DOs, that is, doctors that graduate from osteopathic schools, have to complete an extra 200 hours of coursework. These additional hours focus on the musculoskeletal system and the holistic view of medicine. The holistic view of medicine is one that treats medicine wholly, serving not only the body but also the mind and spirit. The training on the musculoskeletal system is called osteopathic manipulation medicine training or OMM training, for short.

The result of these extra 200 hours is a greater understanding by DOs of the range of motion of muscles and bones by merely touching and feeling them. This is probably why some people call DOs chiropractors, which is not true. DOs are licensed medical practitioners, like MDs, with the main difference in their medicine philosophies. I can’t overemphasize that. I’m still going to try, though.

But even with the extra hours of OMM training, many DOs rarely use that aspect of their training. According to a 2003 study in Ohio, most DOs don’t use OMM techniques, and by the majority, I mean close to 75% of the DOs in that study. 

There’s another difference, or should I say kind of a difference. DOs are known for practicing preventive medicine. This does not mean MDs don’t also practice preventive medicine, but DOs just practice it more. And this also does not mean some MDs don’t practice preventive medicine more than some DOs. You can see why I said earlier that there aren’t any major differences because, many times, both DOs and MDs use the same techniques. 

So, you may be thinking about which doctor or philosophy is okay for you. Well, the answer is both are fine. DOs and MDs are qualified to practice medicine and prescribe drugs, and they receive the same training. However, many DOs are primary care doctors. More than half of DOs go into the primary care field, with that figure standing at about a quarter for MDs. The implication of this is that if you need a primary care doctor, you may want to consider a DO. But if you have a particular ailment and want a specialist in that field, you can choose an MD or a DO. 

A quick recap of all we’ve discussed, then. One, DOs are real doctors. Two, the difference between DOs and MDs is merely philosophical. Three, both are qualified and licensed to treat you, so you have nothing to fear. I didn’t miss anything, did I? This was fun, kind of. Allopathy or osteopathy, medicine is fun.

This article was written by Dr. Adil Manzoor DO, a Board Certified Internist & Board Eligible Pediatrician, who works as a Hospitalist, and Emergency Room Physician. He is also the current President of Garden State Street Medicine, a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to provide free preventive and acute urgent care services for the homeless. He is also the co-founder of his own unique medical practice Mobile Medicine NJ.



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