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Medical Student Perspectives: What is Osteopathic Medicine?

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It is not uncommon to still hear the question, “How is a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) different from an MD (Doctor of Medicine)?” or, “What exactly is a DO?” These are some of the recurring questions many of my osteopathic colleagues and I hear on a regular basis. When these questions are raised, they present perfect opportunities to talk more about our profession and educate patients and other medical professionals about osteopathic medicine.

Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO, founded osteopathic medicine in 1874 after experiencing significant despair with 19th century medical therapies. His disillusionment peaked after medical failure touched his own life as he watched three of his children die from spinal meningitis. Dr. Still felt many medical therapies such as bloodletting, and mercury preparations such as calomel, were ineffective and ultimately harmful therapies. As a result, he pioneered the concept of body unity. He recognized the importance of preventive health and the ability of the body to heal itself. Lastly, he emphasized the role of the musculoskeletal system as a key element in good health.

In 1892, Dr. Still founded the first osteopathic school called the American School of Osteopathy, which is now called the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine. Dr. Still’s initial aim was to provide an education based in manual manipulation of the musculoskeletal system. Shortly thereafter, a full medical education program was implemented. As a result of the 1910 Flexner Report, sweeping educational requirements took place in many DO and MD granting institutions and the modern medical education system was born.

Today, there are 23 osteopathic medical schools in the United States. Osteopathic schools emphasize training primary care doctors with an emphasis on treating the “whole” person, not just a patient’s symptoms. Clearly, all clinicians, whether they are MDs or DOs, care for the entire patient, but osteopathic schools emphasize and integrate this philosophy into all aspects of the curriculum. The scientific and evidence-based training for osteopathic students is very similar to the training received by allopathic (MD) students and upon graduation, DOs are fully licensed physicians in all 50 states. In addition, osteopathic medical students receive training in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM), where they learn to diagnose and treat with their hands using a number of different treatment modalities.

After graduation, DOs enter osteopathic and allopathic residency programs in all fields of medicine and surgery. Currently, osteopathic students are being highly encouraged by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) to consider training opportunities that will better prepare them to work as primary care providers in both rural and urban underserved parts of our country’s health care system.

The history of osteopathic medicine is relevant and interesting, but the future is where the focus lies for young osteopathic medical students. Increasing public awareness and a deepening of professional camaraderie between MDs and DOs will continue to play a positive role in building and maintaining superior healthcare teams. Hopefully, this article provides insight and perspective to you, my future colleagues and the next great generation of internists.

Emily C. Haines
Osteopathic Representative, Council of Student Members
Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine, 2008
E-mail:
Emily.c.haines@dmu.edu

Back to March 2007 Issue of IMpact

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