DOs and MDs are alike in many ways, but osteopathic medicine is a parallel branch of American medicine that has a distinct philosophy and approach to patient care. DOs practice a “whole person” approach to medicine and focus on preventive health care. They also receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system and osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), in which osteopathic physicians use their hands to diagnose illness and injury. Learn more about the DO difference.
DOs attend osteopathic medical school for a period of four years, which includes clinical and classroom learning.
The DO symbol is called the Staff of Aesclepius (often spelled Aesculapius) and consists of a single serpent encircling a staff, or classically a rough-hewn knotty tree limb. The staff was named after a skilled physician who practiced in Greece around 1200 BC. The term can also be found in Homer’s Iliad. Aesclepius is commonly referred to as the Greek god of healing.
How to Find a DO
Osteopathic Medical Education
As of the 2014-15 academic year, there will be 30 osteopathic medical colleges (COMs) offering instruction in 40 locations throughout the United States. To locate an osteopathic medical school, please view the complete listing of COMs.
The AOA does not rank its colleges. All osteopathic medical colleges must comply with the AOA’s Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation standards.
Board certification, through one of the 18 specialty certifying boards of the AOA, means an osteopathic physician has successfully completed the necessary education and postdoctoral training to submit to evaluation and examination by the certifying boards. DOs who successfully pass the examination and evaluation process in their specialty of choice are then said to be board-certified or Diplomates of the examining board.
In most cases, DOs who wish to become certified must complete the following:
- Must be a graduate of an osteopathic medical school.
- Have applied to and been accepted as a registrant by the appropriate specialty board.
- Have documented the satisfactory completion of an AOA-approved internship and the completion of the practice requirement.
- Have documented the satisfactory completion of an AOA-approved residency or preceptorship program if applicable.
- Have met all the requirements as established by the appropriate specialty board.
- Are and remain members in good standing of the AOA or the Canadian Osteopathic Association.
Osteopathic physicians can become certified through one of the AOA’s 18 certifying boards. In addition, upon obtaining primary certification, DOs can also seek additional certification in subspecialty areas such as cardiology and maternal fetal medicine, and in areas of Added Qualifications such as Sports Medicine and Geriatric Medicine.
Yes. Osteopathic physicians can receive certification through one of the member boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). In order to become board-certified through an ABMS Board, physicians must meet the requirements of that Board.
If you are a credentialer:
Credentialers who wish to obtain primary source verification on certification, and other comprehensive information, can do so by obtaining an AOA physician profile online. You may also contact the American Osteopathic Information Association at (800) 621-1773, extension 8285 or by email at email@example.com. The cost of the profile is $20online; $25 for regular mail, profiles sent via regular mail take five business days for delivery; $30 for fax.
If you are a prospective patient:
Patients who would like to check the certification status of a DO can contact the AOA Member Service Center at (800) 62-1773, Option 1 in the menu.
A 1999 study released in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that OMT is not only an effective and low-cost form of treatment for low back pain but also a treatment that decreased the need for medications and surgery. In addition to being used to treat low back pain and musculoskeletal abnormalities, OMT can be used to treat asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, menstrual pain, sinus disorders and migraines.
In order to file a complaint against a DO, or to find out about complaints filed against a DO, contact the medical board in the state where the DO practices.
Complaints regarding unethical conduct are reviewed by the AOA’s Bureau of Ethics. Complaints must be signed and submitted in written format to the following address:
AOA Bureau on Ethics
C/O Josh Prober, JD
American Osteopathic Association
142 E. Ontario St.
Chicago, IL 60611-2864
There isn’t a formal process for providing praise for your doctor. However, you can write your DO a letter stating your appreciation for the excellent medical care you and your family receive from him/her. In addition, you can write to your health insurance company letting it know that your DO is a great medical care provider. Lastly, when family, friends or co-workers ask you to recommend a good physician, you can give them the name of your DO.
About the AOA
Yes. The AOA’s Bureau of International Osteopathic Medicine provides organizational leadership that unifies osteopathic medical education and practice throughout the world. The purpose is to ensure the continued advancement of the American model of osteopathic medicine internationally.