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What Kind of Medical Degree Is a D.O.?

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Most people aren’t aware that many physicians are doctors of osteopathy, or D.O.s, reports the American Osteopathic Association. The D.O. degree is a medical degree that physicians obtain in order to diagnose and treat patients, prescribe medication and perform surgery. A D.O. degree means that your doctor has had holistic training in addition to standard medical education.

How D.O. and M.D. Degrees are Similar

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Like an M.D., a doctor with a D.O. medical degree has completed a four-year bachelor’s degree program plus four years of medical school. D.O.s and M.D.s both go through internships, residencies and fellowships after medical school for four to eight years. A D.O. can specialize in any field and must pass a state exam for licensure.

Osteopathic Medicine

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Osteopathic medicine is a holistic and preventive practice. It was developed in the 1800s by a doctor who thought conventional medicine often did more harm than good, reports the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. Osteopathy focuses on health promotion, disease prevention and the body’s innate healing ability.

Osteopathic Manipulation

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A D.O. degree involves education about osteopathic manipulation. Somewhat similar to chiropractic care, osteopathic manipulation is a technique used to alleviate pain and restore function and motion. It focuses more on joints and soft tissue than on the spine. Several osteopathic manipulation techniques are used today, including cranial-sacral therapy, myofacial release, muscle energy technique and strain-counter-strain.

Prevalence of D.O.s

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A D.O. degree allows a physician to practice in all 50 states and in all fields of medicine. Nearly one in five medical students chooses the D.O. degree for study, according to AACOM, and 60 percent of D.O.s practice in primary care fields such as family medicine and general internal medicine, reports AOA. D.O.s fill critical physician shortages in rural and underserved areas and are responsible for 16 percent of patient visits in areas with small populations.