Doctor of osteopathic medicine

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A doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) is a physician licensed to practice medicine, perform surgery, and prescribe medication.

Alternative Names

Osteopathic physician


Like all allopathic physicians (or MDs), osteopathic physicians complete 4 years of medical school and can choose to practice in any specialty of medicine. However, osteopathic physicians receive an additional 300 to 500 hours in the study of hands-on manual medicine and the body's musculoskeletal system.

Osteopathic physicians hold to the principle that a patient's history of illness and physical trauma are written into the body's structure. The osteopathic physician's highly developed sense of touch allows the physician to feel (palpitate) the patient's living anatomy (the flow of fluids, motion and texture of tissues, and structural makeup).

Like MDs, osteopathic physicians are licensed at the state level. Osteopathic physicians who wish to specialize may become board certified (in the same manner as MDs) by completing a 2- to 6-year residency within the specialty area and passing the board certification exams.

DOs practice in all specialties of medicine, ranging from emergency medicine and cardiovascular surgery to psychiatry and geriatrics. A majority of osteopathic doctors use many of the medical and surgical treatments that are used by other medical doctors.


Chila A. Foundations of Osteopathic Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 2010.

Gevitz N. The "doctor of osteopathy": expanding the scope of practice. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2014;114:200-212.

Kuchera ML. Applying osteopathic principles to formulate treatment for patients with chronic pain. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2007;107(10 Suppl 6):ES28-S38.

Moore WJ. The eccentricities of osteopathy. BMJ. 2012;345:e5890.

Stark J. A degree of difference: the origins of osteopathy and the first use of the "DO" designation. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2014;114:615-617.

Thomson OP, Petty NJ, Moore AP. A qualitative grounded theory study of the conceptions of clinical practice in osteopathy - a continuum from technical rationality to professional artistry. Man Ther. 2014;19:37-43.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 12/12/2014
  • Paul Ballas, DO, Attending Psychiatrist, Friends Hospital, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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