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What is a DO?

Eugene D. Pogorelec, DO

Osteopathic Medicine

A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, or DO, uses a holistic approach to treating patients. This 'whole person' approach to medicine recognizes the internal and external factors that may affect a person's health such as heredity, lifestyle, stress, diet, family environment, and exercise.

With their specialized training, DOs have a better understanding of your body's interconnected system of nerves, muscles, and bones. This expertise in the musculoskeletal system gives DOs the knowledge of how an injury or illness in one part of your body affects another.

DOs also train in Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). OMT allows physicians to use their hands to diagnose injury and illness, and to encourage your good health. OMT is only a part of the common underlying belief that DOs share in keeping their patients healthy through regular care, preventive medicine, and the coordination's of each and every patient's individual needs.

The physicians at Family Practice Associations strive to maintain a principled and personal approach to family medicine while utilizing the skills necessary to provide you with state of the art care in a warm and caring environment. Please feel free to discuss any health related questions or concerns you have with your doctor or a member of the clinical staff. We welcome your comments and questions.

DO vs MD

While DOs and MDs are both licensed physicians, the short answer to what differentiates DOs is their concnetration on treating the 'whole person' through the advanced understanding of osteopathic medicine and the musculoskeletal system. To understand the differences between DOs and MDs, it is imnportant to first understand their similarities.

  • Applicants to both DO and MD colleges typically have a four-year undergraduate degree with an emphasis on science courses.
  • Both DOs and MDs complete four years of basic medical education.
  • After medical school, both DOs and MDs can choose to practice in a specialty area of medicine - such as psychiatry, surgery, obstetrics, or sports medicine - after completing a residency program (typically two to six years of additional training).
  • Both DOs and MDs must pass comparable state licensing examinations.
  • DOs and MDs both practice in fully accredited and licensed hospitals and medical centers.
What distinguishes DOs is their philosophical approach to medicine coupled with additional training in Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) and the musculoskeletal system.

  • DOs look at the 'whole person' and focus on preventive care. Instead of just treating specific symptoms or illnesses, they look at the whole body.
  • DOs receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system, which is comprised of the nerves, muscles, and bones. This training gives DOs a better understanding of how an injury or illness in one part of the body can affect another part of the body; therefore, DOs have a therapeutic and diagnostic advantage.
  • DOs use what is called osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). OMT is a technique in which the DOs use their hands to diagnose injury and illness, giving special attention to the joints, bones, muscles, and nerves. Manipulations improve circulation, which in turn, creates a normal nerve and blood supply, enabling the body to heal itself.


The founder of Osteopathic medicine, a frontier physician living near the turn of the 19th century, created a new philosophy of medicine. After a traditional training through apprenticeship and medical lectures, an early career of caring for both settlers and American Indians, and an idea for improving medical practice, Andrew Taylor Still fervently began developing his philosophy of medicine after traditional methods were unable to save his children from spinal meningitis.

An early articulation of his idea came about in 1874 while living in Kansas. He thought the human body had much in common with a machine, one which ought to function well if it is mechanically sound. This initial thought turned into a career of developing not only medicinal treatment, but mechanical-like treatment as well. He voraciously advocated a medical method that centered on treating the body by improving its natural functions, achieving good results without the use of most medicine at the time.

As his methods, which included manipulation designed to improve circulation and correct altered mechanics began showing results, Still's patient population grew quickly. Eventually, his popularity and respect reached a tipping point, and he opened the American School of Osteopathy. More osteopathic medical schools opened and more osteopathic private practices began to spring up. The new 'healing art' continued to grow, gain recognition, and solidify itself in medical history in America.

How to Become a DO

Becoming a DO begins with a passion for medicine and a desire to care for people. A typical path to becoming a DO begins in high school, building the foundations to an appreciation for science and learning. In college, students begin preparing themselves to eventually take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). This typically requires a rigorous schedule of science based courses. Some colleges have pre-med programs that define the classes necessary to be most prepared for the MCAT. It is also becoming more common for pre-medicine students to work towards a double major in a non-scientific course of study. This usually helps their chances at getting into their desired medical school, as other skills like communication, psychology, and business can be very important to physicians.

Towards the end of college, students need to complete the MCAT. Receiving a high score on the MCAT is important to being accepted into your school of choice. Choosing when to take this entrance exam is determined by several factors. It is first important to be comfortable with all the necessary sections of the MCAT (Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, Writing Sample, and Biological Sciences - to learn more about the MCAT, visit the official MCAT website). However, it is also important to take the MCAT while the course material is still fresh. Taking the entrance exam in June the year you are applying for is typically recommended. This allows you to know your scores early enough to help make your medical school decision or have enough time to retake the exam. Medical schools also typically will not review an application until the MCAT scores have been submitted.

Choosing a medical school is a very personal matter. It is dependent on many factors like tuition, geography, fit, college performance, and your MCAT scores. For a list of osteopathic colleges and relevant information, visit the American Osteopathic Association's website and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine's website.

Once admitted into an osteopathic college, you must complete a rigorous curriculum which includes coursework and clinical clerkships. Choosing to practice in a specialty such as family practice, pediatrics, psychiatrics, surgery, or obstetrics will require post-graduate training for  two to six years in a residency program.

The coursework will include courses like those listed below. (Note, your actual courses may differ from those listed here)

Year 1 - Anatomy, Neuroscience, Physiology, Histology, Clinical Skills, Biochemistry, Radiology, Pathology, Osteopathic Principles and Practices, Doctor/Patient Communication

Year 2 - Gerontology, Respiratory, Cardiology, Ethics and Jurisprudence, Gastrointestinal System, Family Medicine, Hematopoietic System, Genitourinary System, Osteopathic Principles and Practices, Reproductive System, Endocrinology, Pediatrics/Growth and Development, Psychiatry

Year 3 and 4 (clinical clerkship in:) - Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, Oncology and Hermatology, Nephrology, Emergency Medicine, Surgery, Orthopedics, Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Osteopathic Principles and Practices, Pediatrics, Radiology, Cardiology, Pulmonary Medicine, Neurology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Anesthesiology, Otorhinolaryngology, Laboratory Medicine

Osteopathic medical schools also have a long tradition of accepting non-traditional students who may be looking at osteopathic medicine as a new career later in life. Typically, these students come from a variety of backgrounds, including administrators, business executives, attorneys, professional musicians and newspaper reporters. Many of these students have families and some are single parents. These students comprise approximately 20-25 percent of our student body across the country.

Some information provided by the American Osteopathic Association.

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