In a dichotomous system (e.g. MDs vs DOs), it can be hard to talk highly of one side without implying the other side is “lower.” I don’t want this blog post to read as a comparison between the two types of physicians, but rather my own interest in osteopathic medicine and some of the reasons why I appreciate this type of training.
There are two types of physicians in the United States: Allopathic physicians, referred to as MDs; and osteopathic physicians, who are called DOs. Although the more “classic” route is the allopathic (MD) one, both types of physicians exist in all specialties, have identical privileges, and train side-by-side after medical school. If this is the first time you’re learning about this, you might not even know which type of doctor your physician is. (Go check!)
Throughout the application process, I read about osteopathic (DO) medical training and it resonated with me. I learned about centering prevention, caring for the “whole patient,” and focusing on population health—all as part of the osteopathic philosophy. The DOs I spoke with were great and took pride in the way they practiced medicine. One mentioned that he values the nontraditional route because, “why would you want to do what everybody else does?”
Let me be clear and say: I don’t know which training is “better.” Cases could be made that one type of training is better or worse, different or the same. It depends who you talk to and what their goals and interests are. Any medical school training in the current system is difficult, demanding, and time-consuming (“soul-sucking” is a phrase that comes up a lot). But within this system, I am beyond grateful I’m on this route.
Here are three reasons why I’m excited about being a DO:
First, you get hands-on training from the jump. The primary curricular difference between the two paths is that DOs are trained in what is called osteopathic manipulative medicine. It is a way to assess, diagnose, and treat a patient through the use of hands-on techniques (similar, in a way, to physical therapy). Patients love it.
Imagine if you went to your doctor’s office not feeling well. You felt “off,” but they couldn’t find anything necessarily wrong with you. Rather than prescribe something you don’t need or apologize because there’s nothing clinical to be done, DOs have an extra tool in their pocket: OMM.
It is fun to learn, too. It’s active and engaging, and we grow comfortable in touching another person’s body respectfully. On the first day of OMM lab we palpated each other’s pubic tubercle. Needless to say, it was a quick initiation into a new comfort zone.
Second, I value the population-centered approach to care that is embedded within the osteopathic philosophy. As much as possible, there is an emphasis on prevention and lifestyle education. This is extremely valuable in a nation where lifestyle-related diseases are causing more harm and killing more people than ever before. As I’ve said in some of my other content, primary care reform is THE needed change in our healthcare system; and with just over half of all DO graduates going into primary care, we will have a crucial role to play in that transformation. I want to be part of this.
Finally, I really like my classmates. That makes me feel like I am in the right place. And maybe (probably) I’d like my classmates no matter where I ended up, and this is an obvious example of confirmation bias, but that’s alright. My classmates make me appreciate osteopathic medicine. They are politically active and aware, they care about prevention, they took nontraditional routes before ending up in medicine— they have stories to tell. My theory is that since osteopathic medicine is the more non-traditional route to becoming a physician, it selects for more non-traditional people. And I value that very much.