Doctor of Osteopathy: Bone Doctor? Witch Doctor? Can you prescribe meds?

20 Mar

Osteopathic medicine seems to be quite a confusing topic for a lot of people these days. So allow me to clear it up… I am a second year medical student at Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine (a mouthful right?). Before applying to D.O. schools I did extensive research on what Osteopathic medicine really was so that I would be able to explain it when people asked if I was a witch doctor or a bone doctor, which unfortunately both actually happened.

            Lets start with a brief history of Osteopathic medicine. Andrew Taylor Still MD, DO coined the phrase of osteopathy and the practice of osteopathic medicine started around 1874. When asked where the name Osteopathy came from Dr. Still said this:

“I reasoned that the bone, ‘osteon,’ was the starting point from which I was to ascertain the cause of pathological conditions, and I combined the ‘osteo’ with ‘pathy.’”

In the osteopathic practice A.T. Still promoted is a “whole body approach”. For example, when a patient complains of shoulder pain an osteopath will examine the shoulder but also the heart because cardiac pain can be referred to the shoulder.

            So what is the difference between Osteopaths/D.O.’s and Allopaths/M.D.’s? There is no difference… D.O.’s can do everything a M.D.’s can do and we have the same opportunities. Osteopaths take the COMLEX (D.O. boards) but can also take the USMLE boards (M.D. boards), in order to apply to M.D. residencies. Each medical student must take Board exam(s) which encompass all the medical knowledge the student has learned in the first two years of medical school. D.O.’s follow the same curriculum as any M.D. school, however osteopaths have an intense focus on anatomy in order to be successful in Osteopathic Medical Treatment.

            Another difference is that osteopaths learn Osteopathic Medical Treatment/Management (OMT or OMM). This is a complete skill set only D.O.’s learn. OMT is a set of manual manipulations of the musculoskeletal system which correct somatic dysfunctions and promote homeostasis. In other words, with OMT osteopaths learn to manipulate the tissues, muscle, and bones of the patient in order to re-align the portions that were dysfunctional. The principles of osteopathy:

In general, there are four principles of osteopathic philosophy: (1) a person is comprised of body, mind and spirit; (2) the body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing and health maintenance; (3) the structure and function of the body are reciprocally related; and (4) rational medical treatment is based upon an understanding and integration of these three principles along with the use of evidence-based medicine.

These principles are for osteopathic practice in general but tie into everything osteopaths do in OMT also.


“It is the object of a physician to find health, anyone can find disease.”

Andrew Taylor Still M.D., D.O.

            I want to leave you with one thing- You have probably been treated or seen by an osteopathic physician and did not even know the difference.

And yes we can prescribe any and all medications….

My name is Chaz Richardson from Hattiesburg, MS. I attended Samford University and graduated in May 2007, then studied at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to receive a Master’s of Biomedical Sciences. I am now in medical school at Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine and plan to graduate in May 2013.



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