Is a DO a real doctor?


  • Wellness
  • Sunday, 11 Oct 2020

Most people learnt that Dr Conley (centre) was a DO, rather than an MD, when he entered the limelight after Trump got Covid-19. — TNS

What is the difference between a doctor of medicine (an MD) and a doctor of osteopathic medicine (a DO)?

It’s a question many Americans may be asking after learning that White House physician Dr Sean Conley, who is in charge of US President Donald Trump’s healthcare, is a DO and not an MD.

The first thing to know is that just like MDs, DOs are fully licensed doctors who practise medicine, prescribe drugs and perform surgeries throughout the United States, according to the American Osteopathic Association.

They also practise in 44 other countries around the world, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine says.

And just like MDs, DOs attend four years of postgraduate school, followed by a year of internship (housemanship), and do at least two additional years of residency (medical officership) before they begin practising on their own.

Although MDs are educated in allopathic medical schools and DOs go to osteopathic medical schools, they apply to the same residency programmes and can pursue careers in any field, including radiology, surgery, paediatrics and oncology.

Today, roughly a quarter of medical students in the US are enrolled in colleges of osteopathic medicine, and more than 74,000 DOs are in practice.

The main difference between MDs and DOs is philosophical, says Dr Kevin Klauer, a former emergency room physician who now serves as chief executive of the American Osteopathic Association.

In osteopathic medical schools, future DOs are taught to take a holistic approach to their patient’s care, rather than just treating an ailment.

“Infused into the osteopathic curriculum is a focus on treating the whole person, including the mind, body and spirit,” he says.

That might mean considering how a medicine or therapy will affect the body’s other systems, or asking about depression even when a patient’s primary concern is a complication with something like diabetes, he explains.

MDs who attend allopathic medical schools may also take this same approach, but it is not built into their education in the same way, Dr Klauer says. – Deborah Netburn/Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service

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