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The difference between an M.D. and D.O.

Your doctor: The difference between an M.D. and D.O.

You know what an M.D. is, but have you ever been treated by a D.O.? While both degrees mean your doctor is a licensed physician, their training differs slightly, and each has a unique perspective on care.

“An M.D. follows an allopathic medical training path, whereas a D.O. follows osteopathic,” says Piedmont internal medicine physician Elizabeth Jaggers, M.D.

While these doctors attended different medical schools, most of them practice at the same hospitals and clinics, and patients today are unlikely to notice major differences in treatment.

What is a D.O. doctor?

Doctors of osteopathic medicine regard the body as an integrated whole rather than treating for specific symptoms only, according to the American Osteopathic Association. Allopathic medicine focuses more on disease treatment, Dr. Jaggers explains.

Although both M.D.s and D.O.s receive similar education, D.O. programs require 300 hours of osteopathic manipulation medicine (OMM) training, which focuses on the musculoskeletal system. D.O.s also often address conditions from both a medical and lifestyle perspective.

What is an M.D. doctor?

An M.D., or medical doctor, is the more commonly known kind of physician. Like D.O.s, they are trained through several years of both coursework and clinical practice.

Both M.D.s and D.O.s are licensed to work in all 50 states, Dr. Jaggers says. Additionally, many complete residencies at the same hospitals, and the physicians frequently become colleagues once their training is complete as well.

Physician specialties

Many D.O. education programs emphasize primary care, and graduates tend to enter specialties like family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics/gynecology.

Although D.O.s all receive OMM training, they are licensed physicians -- not chiropractors or other health practitioners.

“This is not a naturopath,” Dr. Jaggers says. “It’s important that people understand that.”

Many M.D.s pursue primary care too, but they’re also frequently found in more specialized fields.

Should you choose a D.O. or an M.D.?

In modern healthcare, there isn’t much practical difference between a D.O. and an M.D., Dr. Jaggers says.

Most D.O.s no longer use OMM in their daily work, blurring the lines between their practices and M.D. practices. At the same time, plenty of M.D.s now integrate a whole-person perspective into their treatment.

“I’m a medical doctor and very much like to focus on the whole-person approach,” Dr. Jaggers says.

If you’re seeking a new doctor, she recommends considering factors other than the degree. How is the doctor’s bedside manner? Do you feel comfortable sharing information with them?

“It’s more about your interaction with the physician and their approach,” she says.

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