How to choose between an M.D. or D.O.
when choosing a doctor

Different Types of Doctors

The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine estimates that more than 20 percent of current medical students are studying to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.).  So what are the differences between an M.D. and a D.O., and what these differences mean for their patients? Read below to learn more. 

1. What is a D.O.?

Licensed physicians in the U.S. must be either an M.D. or a D.O. The acronym M.D. stands for medical doctor, while D.O. is short for doctor of osteopathic medicine. The titles do not refer to a specialty. For example, I am a D.O. that works as an internal medicine physician, but there are D.O.s and M.D.s who specialize in pulmonary disease, neurosurgery, psychiatry, etc. 

2. What are the differences between M.D.s and D.O.s?

The differences between D.O.s and M.D.s are the additional training that D.O.s receive, osteopathic manipulation and the integrative philosophy that we apply to medicine. D.O.s look at the “total person”—including their environment and its impact on the patient’s health—to promote preventive care instead of just treating symptoms. 

3. How does osteopathic manipulative medicine work?

Osteopathic manipulative medicine is a hands-on approach to treatment which includes physically manipulating targeted areas of the body to improve circulation, release tension and balance muscles, providing the patient with a better foundation to begin healing. Osteopathic physicians use these tools in addition to what people typically view as modern medicine, which can include prescription drugs, surgery and technology. All D.O.s are trained in these techniques, but the degree to which they use them in their practice is up to the specific physician. 

4. How common are D.O.s?

We are seeing recent growth in the number of D.O.’s in the United States, and one of the reasons is that the education and training programs for M.D.s and D.O.s are becoming increasingly aligned with one another. D.O.s are growing in popularity, and Swedish Hospital’s medical staff has osteopathic physicians in a wide variety of specialties, including family medicine, emergency medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine and pediatrics. 

5. How can patients tell which type of doctor is best for them?

Determining whether to see an M.D. or a D.O. is entirely personal. The most important thing is being comfortable with whomever you choose and trusting their ability to care for you. A good physician should be willing to take the time to educate you, listen to concerns and answer questions in addition to treating you for illness. 

By David Modica | Published July 13, 2016
Ready to Safely Care for You

Swedish Hospital is operating under enhanced safety protocols to provide a comfortable and safe environment for our patients, physicians, nurses and hospital staff.

Learn More
When should you ask your doctor about low blood pressure?

And what you can do to help avoid a sudden drop in blood pressure.

Learn More
Tips for relationships and coping with chronic illnesses

Here’s what to look for and how to best cope when a loved one is sick.

Learn More