03 August 2007

the most prevalent question: what's a d.o.?

i don't know if i've explicitly mentioned this before, but i'm an osteopathic medical student.

wtf does that mean?

i'm sure you're wondering.

in the u.s., there are two different types of physicians who are licensed as medical doctors. one group everyone knows about. these are the doctors who have "m.d." posted behind their names. (m.d. = medical doctor) they comprise, at present, the majority of physicians in the country. the medical schools that provide m.d. degrees are known as allopathic medical schools. the other group is lesser known. these are the doctors who have "d.o." posted behind their names. (d.o. = doctor of osteopathy) they comprise, at present, the majority of medical students in the country. the medical schools that provide d.o. degrees are known as osteopathic medical schools.

what does all this mean? well, truthfully, it depends upon who you ask. the history of how osteopathy came about and split from allopathy is one that proves quite complex. interesting, no doubt--but way beyond the scope of what i can explain here. historically, osteopathic medicine has proven more "holistic" than allopathic medicine. many (if not most) of allopathic physicians would say, however, that allopathic medicine is more grounded in medical science than osteopathic medicine. as with any fine splitting of hairs in a discipline, the two sides tend to bash each other quite a bit. this is unfortunate, because in reality, both types of practitioners and students have tremendous expertise that they could share with each other if they'd get over the notion that one type of doctor is "better" than another.

given the increase in awareness on both sides of the educational divide regarding "alternative" medical practices, today's medical school graduates are, imho, all equal. some people would argue with this--after all, is getting a degree from man's best medical school the same as getting a degree from man's worst medical school? i argue that either notion is fiction. there really aren't "opposites" in medical schools in terms of best and worst. some schools have better programs in certain areas than others, some have more research opportunities, some have superior clinical opportunities, some have different styles of instruction, etc. the old notion that some schools are better because they've attracted more students with 4.0 gpas and scores of 35+ on the mcat...these "predictors" (as they're dubbed by med school admissions committees) are rather arbitrary. of the thousands of people who apply to medical school, only about 1/10th actually get a seat at a school. i highly doubt that there's any "dumb" person amongst those who get in. in fact, it's arguable as to whether or not any applicants could be considered "dumb"--anyone who applies is hyper-educated, at the very least. also, as anyone who has been through the process can tell you, there's a point at which an applicant realizes that s/he doesn't care where s/he gets to go to school--everyone who gets in is simply grateful to be able to go. so, do the students at mbms have higher iq's than those at mwms? probably. does this mean they'll end up becoming better physicians? hell no.

in my opinion, it matters little which type of doctor one is or where one did her or his training. the important thing is how a physician practices.

nevertheless, the most oft asked question of an osteopathic medical student is "what is a d.o.?" everyone asks this question. some more than once. the students at my school have been talking about this all week. how do we answer this question? what is the difference? what do we want people to know?

a group of osteopathic physicians in california, in collaboration with two osteopathic medical schools in that state, created the following youtube video as a response. it's a little bit commercial-y for my taste, but it gives a very basic overview.

other than this, there are a few details about osteopathic physicians that i'll delineate here, particularly since they're often misunderstood:
  1. d.o.s are licensed by the same medical board(s) as m.d.s
  2. the curriculum in an allopathic medical school differs from a curriculum in an osteopathic medical school only by one class: d.o. students are required to spend the first two years studying osteopathic practices (osteopathic practices are similar to techniques used by a chiropractor, a physical therapist, or a massage therapist, etc.--i.e. they're hands-on techniques used to treat dysfunctions of the musculoskeletal system)
  3. d.o.s and m.d.s, for the most part, end up doing residencies together (so their training is identical in the post-graduate sense)
  4. d.o.s and m.d.s do the exact same things, ranging from performing a school physical on a kid in family practice to conducting a heart-lung transplant operation in surgery
  5. the "holistic" philosophy to which d.o.'s subscribe is defined as follows:
    1. the body is a unit; the person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit
    2. the body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing and health maintenance
    3. structure and function are reciprocally interrelated
    4. rational treatment is based upon an understanding of the basic principles of body unity, self-regulation, and the interrelationship of structure and function
so, there's my brief answer to the most prevalent question. if you find it helpful/interesting, please pass it on!

No comments:

a little disclaimer...

i'm a medical student. just a student. so please, don't take anything i say too seriously. remember that i was an english literature major as an undergrad, so there is much fiction to be found in these pages. do you think i'm telling a story about you or your illness? more likely, you're tapping into my sense of "everyman"--that is, your story resonates with what i write here because it's not so uncommon after all. need help? please, please go see your physician. <--i'm not her. yet. ;-)