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What Does an Osteopathic Doctor Do?

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Alternative to Medical Doctor With a Focus on Wellness

Osteopathic doctors are physicians whose training is very similar to that provided in medical schools, but with an increased focus on patient education, nutrition and disease prevention. While many choose family practice, some osteopathic physicians opt for specialty training in a medical sub-field. Since many osteopaths are in private practice, physicians have more control over their own schedules and can better balance work and family life. Osteopathic physicians generally report a high degree of job satisfaction.

Job Description

Doctors of osteopathic medicine, or D.O.s, practice in all areas of medicine, from general family practice to specializations such as orthopedic surgery. Like medical doctors (M.D.s), D.O.s are fully licensed physicians, but their training differs by the application of a whole-person approach. Medical doctors practice allopathic medicine, which is concerned with a disease's response to medical intervention. In contrast, osteopathy looks at the misalignment of the body's musculoskeletal system as a cause of disease. Osteopathy places greater emphasis on prevention and wellness.

Education Requirements

The first step in becoming in osteopathic is earning a bachelor's degree. Although there are no formal requirements, most students major in biology or chemistry and complete coursework in advanced life sciences, physics, mathematics, English and communications. Like medical school, admission to osteopathic college is competitive and requires a strong grade point average (GPA) and a qualifying score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

An osteopathic college requires four years of specialized study beyond the bachelor's degree. The curriculum is very similar to that offered in medical school, meeting accreditation standards for students planning to specialize in family practice, obstetrics-gynecology, internal medicine, pediatrics, preventive medicine, psychiatry, public health, radiology or surgery. Osteopathic college provides students with supervised clinical experience early in their training. Osteopathic medicine emphasizes prevention and wellness, combining specialized knowledge of the body's musculoskeletal system with the latest advances in medical technology. D.O.s learn to diagnose and treat patients, prescribing medicines and performing surgeries as needed, but they are trained to look at the whole patient, including the patient's lifestyle and environment, rather than merely at symptoms.

After completing the D.O. degree, osteopaths must complete a one-year general practice residency. Those choosing to specialize further can apply for other osteopathic residencies or any of the residencies to which graduates of medical schools (allopathic physicians) apply.

About the Industry

D.O.s are becoming increasingly common in the health care system. With greater public awareness of what individuals can do to keep their bodies healthy, a growing appreciation exists for osteopathy's whole-person approach. Osteopaths see patients through private practice and in hospitals and clinics. They may work with other members of a health care team to provide diagnosis and treatment. Some osteopaths teach at osteopathic colleges and supervise students' clinical practice and residencies.

Years of Experience

Although D.O.s can practice virtually any medical specialty after completing the required training, most opt for family practice. The median annual salary for a family practice physician is $195,695, meaning half of those in the field earn more, while half earn less. Geographic location can affect salary ranges, as can years of experience. Some average salary ranges include:

  • Less than 1 year of experience: $178,613 to $192,193
  • 3 to 4 years of experience: $179,000 to $193,237
  • 7 to 9 years of experience: $182,443 to $195,675
  • 10 to 14 years of experience: $186,970 to $200,849
  • 20+ years of experience: $193,237 to $208,609

Job Growth Trend

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not distinguish between osteopathic physicians (D.O.s) and allopathic physicians (M.D.s), job growth rate for all physicians and surgeons is expected to be strong over the next decade. The increased population, along with advances in medical research and technology, means more doctors will be needed to meet demands.