Difference between an MD and a DO

July 4, 2012

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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In the United States, physicians come in two guises, the Doctors of Medicine (MD) and Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). Both types of doctor practice medicine in hospitals, surgeries and medical centers, and both types of doctor go through similar medical training. Both DO and MD physicians take the same four-year undergraduate degree in medicine before taking a residency program that lasts between 3 to 7 years. However, while both types of doctor treat similar conditions and have the same rights, responsibilities and licenses to practice medicine, there are subtle differences to the two types of doctor.

Osteopathic Medicine as practiced by DOs started in 1874 and was developed by Dr A T Still, who believed that the causes of illness was just as important to treat as the illness itself. This belief is rooted in the main principles of Osteopathic Medicine as practiced by DOs. This core belief means DOs view patients in a more holistic manner than MDs, viewing the body as a whole rather than just treating the inflicted area. While DO.s perform many of the same functions as Medical Doctors, such as performing surgery, delivering children, treating patients and prescribing medications, they also practice Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM). OMM is the manual manipulation of the spinal column that, according o the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, helps relieve pain and can treat certain medical conditions. Because of this technique, DOs receive more training in the musculoskeletal system than MDs. DOs are able to specialize in the same particular fields of medicine and work in all the same environments as MDs.

MDs have a more allopathic approach to treatment, relying only on conventional medicines, surgery and therapies. MDs are more common than DOs, with 4 out of 5 practicing doctors in the United States an MD. There are differences in the examinations taken to qualify for practicing medicine between the two groups. Medical Doctors undertake the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) while Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX). Both examinations, however, require thorough aptitude and knowledge of the concepts and principles of medicine that constitute safe and effective healthcare.


For the patient, the differences in the two types of medical practitioner are often unnoticeable. Whether visiting an MD or DO, similar treatments are often given for diseases and ailments. However, there are often subtle differences in the way the two types of doctor interact with patients. DOs more often discuss a patient’s social and family background as a means of looking at patient care in a more holistic manner, while MDs may place more emphasis on the scientific background of procedures and treatments. Because MDs outnumber Dos in the United States, they see more patients, but both are licensed professionals that are able to practice abroad, as their qualifications are recognized in most countries.