Your primary care doctor is someone with whom you should have a long-term, strong partnership over the years. And you may be wondering, would it be better to work with a primary care physician who is an MD or a DO? Many patients wonder about this, and may even have heard that one is better than the other.
But is that really true? Is there really a difference between a DO and an MD? Here are some straight answers to your questions, so you can be confident in your decision as you choose your doctor.
If you are wondering what DO and MD even mean, it is not as complicated as you might think. In a nutshell, here is a quick definition of each:
A doctor of medicine (or MD) is a doctor who has studied and graduated from a U.S. conventional medical program (also called allopathic medicine, or mainstream medicine). This means they diagnose and treat conditions with traditional, conventional tools such as blood tests, X-rays and other scans, prescriptions and surgery.
A doctor of osteopathic medicine (or, DO) is a doctor who has earned their degree from a U.S. osteopathic medical school. DOs take a holistic approach to healthcare, which includes considering the patient’s body, mind and emotions when providing care. In addition to conventional tools and techniques, DOs also employ spinal manipulation, chiropractic techniques and massage therapy. This allows the DO to create a patient’s healthcare plan that blends traditional MD care and osteopathic techniques that help support the patient’s wellness.
Both MDs and DOs are authentic, well-trained medical doctors. Here’s a closer look.
While there are misconceptions about which is better, the MD or the DO, the fact is that in the U.S., conventional allopathic medical schools and holistic osteopathic medical schools train doctors very similarly. The requirements for being accepted into an MD or DO program are almost entirely identical, and both expect applicants to show skills, passion, and strong qualifying scores on the MCATs before they are accepted into a program.
In addition, students in both MD and DO programs study a similar curriculum—attending four years of medical school after earning their bachelor’s degree, and then moving into firsthand, clinical experiences through their residency.
MDs and DOs both often gravitate toward practicing general, internal medicine and/or primary care. As a patient, you are just as likely to come across DOs as MDs in your search for your primary care physician, which gives you considerable flexibility in who you choose to provide your healthcare. And you also will find both DOs and MDs practicing specialties too—such as pediatrics, family medicine, general surgery, and geriatrics.
Both MDs and DOs undergo a formal, professional exam to be licensed to practice medicine in their state of residence. These exams generally cover the same materials and sets of knowledge.
While the education of doctors of allopathic medicine and doctors of osteopathic medicine are quite similar, there is one major difference to note: DOs spend an additional 200-plus hours of training on the body’s musculoskeletal system. This added skill set and experience can be quite beneficial to patients, as many symptoms can be alleviated or improved with treatments that center around spinal manipulations, chiropractics, and other techniques focused on the musculoskeletal system.
By definition, an osteopathic (or DO) approach to wellness involves looking at the whole body and choosing whole-body (holistic) treatments, while MDs often focus on the specific set of symptoms the patient is experiencing to find a treatment.
Here is a simple example:
If a patient is experiencing headaches, a doctor of osteopathy may begin treatment by recommending exercises or chiropractic care to bring a better adjustment to your entire skeletal system, which can impact your neck muscles. They may also ask about your stress levels and any emotional situations you are facing that may be contributing to your symptoms, They may recommend treatments related to those issues, as well as pain relief techniques.
A doctor of allopathic, conventional medicine may or may not offer that kind of holistic approach. Some MDs do, but their past training means they will tend to focus on the specific issue you mentioned—your neck pain. Thus, they are likely to more quickly recommend a prescription pain medication to alleviate the pain until the symptoms subside. They may or may not recommend other approaches such as chiropractic care or stress-relief techniques.
Many patients appreciate the holistic approach that DOs offer because it allows for more ways to address symptoms before turning to a prescription or a surgical procedure. And while some MDs may or may not take this approach, all good DOs will, because holistic care is the very foundation of osteopathic medicine.
While both DOs and MDs can and do prescribe medication for health needs, you may find (depending on the individual doctor) that MDs lean toward giving prescriptions a little more often than a DO. This is because DOs look for ways to blend holistic approaches into your care that can sometimes provide a solution to symptoms in place of or in addition to a prescription.
Again, much can depend on the individual doctor and their personality and philosophy of care. But as a general rule, programs that train people as osteopaths typically see patient-centered healthcare as a key objective to how patients are treated. Seeing the patient as an individual and coming up with a personalized plan for wellness is what draws students to train as DOs. You can expect a strong commitment to individualized care when you choose a DO.
Studies and surveys report that patients of DOs tend to be more satisfied, in general, with their healthcare than those who see MDs. This is not surprising, since the osteopathic approach is so focused on seeing the patient as an individual who deserves personalized care that fits their unique needs and preferences.
While the path to earning an MD or a DO degree may seem somewhat different, the advantages to you as a patient depend just as much on the person you choose as their degree. Rather than choosing your doctor based on whether they have the letters MD or DO attached to their name, look for traits that indicate the doctor will be right for you.
Some questions you should ask yourself as you look for a doctor include:
Ultimately, having a doctor on your side who deeply cares about you as a patient and as a person will bring you peace of mind as you focus on your healthcare needs.
As a Board Certified General Surgeon with a Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. William Hanner loves medicine, cares deeply about his patients, and wants to provide the broadest range of skills to address their healthcare. By becoming a DO, he is able to provide a blend of conventional medical approaches as well as natural, osteopathic techniques to create a holistic wellness plan for patients—ensuring a caring, attentive, personalized approach to healthcare that ensures patients the quality of care they want and deserve.
You deserve a medical team that is committed to providing you with the holistic, individualized health care that fits you to a T—and that is what you can count on when you visit Midtown Surgical & Skin Institute. Dr. William Hanner has put together a friendly, attentive, skilled team that sees you as an individual. We listen carefully and take a whole-person approach to addressing your health concerns and finding solutions that improve your wellness.
Contact us to learn more or set up a consultation. We look forward to serving you on your journey to better health and wellness!