Understanding the Osteopathic Approach to Medicine

Most pre-medicine students tend to think that there is only one route at medical school. They fail to realize that they have a plethora of options available to them, similar to when they applied for undergraduate and graduate schools; specifically, a second degree option exists rather than just the typical “MD” or allopathic degree. In fact, there are two kinds of practicing physicians in the United States: allopathic physicians (MDs), as mentioned earlier, and the underrated osteopathic physicians (DOs). Both are fully licensed physicians, trained in diagnosing and treating illnesses and disorders as well as in providing preventive care.

In fact, it was recently announced that the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) have agreed to a single accreditation system for graduate medical education (GME) programs in the United States. After months of discussion, the allopathic and osteopathic medical communities have committed to preparing future generations of physicians with the highest quality GME, ultimately helping to ensure the quality and safety of health care delivery. The single accreditation system will allow graduates of allopathic and osteopathic medical schools to complete their residency or fellowship education in ACGME-accredited programs and demonstrate achievement of common milestones and competencies.

Despite these new reforms, the value of these two letters, “DO,” is still very much underrated and often the target of condescension. Many students fail to realize that both routes require four years of medical school followed by a residency program. A surgeon will take similar tests for board certification regardless of degree (DO or an MD). Furthermore, to those still doubtful of this “new” type of medicine, American patients have actually been using osteopathic medicine for more than 130 years. Osteopathic medicine began as a nineteenth century health reform movement that emphasized preventive care and a holistic approach to healthcare and discouraged the overuse of medications. Physicians today continue to encourage healthy lifestyles that aim to fight and prevent illness. They listen to their patients’ health concerns and often make recommendations that include natural hands-on healing techniques. These physicians fill critical needs in our healthcare system, particularly as primary care providers in rural and underserved areas.

With the single accreditation system recently in place, it is essential for all pre-medicine students to educate themselves about both allopathic and osteopathic medicine. Neither is necessarily superior; potential medical students simply need to make a choice of how they want to learn and help their patients. Pre-med students should also inform themselves about osteopathic training and practice because both types of doctors frequently work together in clinical settings. The pre-health advisor here at Georgia Tech, Andrea Clark, and other health professionals recommend that all pre-medicine students arrange opportunities to shadow both allopathic and osteopathic physicians and decide for themselves which path towards becoming a licensed physician interests them the most. It is important to keep options open, especially when you just may find another interest in a different medical school route.