• Alexandra Barr, DO

The D.O. Difference

Ever since medical school and residency, I have often been asked the question, “What is the difference between a DO and an MD?” I like to answer the question first with the similarities. Both DOs and MDs are licensed doctors in the US. Both require four years of undergraduate studies and premed requirements. Both require four years of medical school and completion of residency programs. Although osteopathic medical schools tend to focus on primary care and preventative medicine, DOs can go on to specialize in any aspect of medicine, just like MDs. DOs can prescribe medications or perform surgery like MDs. Both require rigorous study and preparation to pass the medical boards and gain licensure. Both use up to date, standard of care medical knowledge to deliver medical care.

So, what are the differences? DOs are doctors of osteopathic medicine and MDs learn allopathic medicine. Allopathic medical doctors focus their treatments of symptoms and diseases using medications, radiation or surgery. In general, DOs have a ‘’whole person’’ approach to illness, looking holistically at environment, lifestyle and behavior rather than just treating symptoms. (Though there are some MDs that also take this approach.) This philosophy is what drew me to osteopathic medicine when I was looking at different medical schools. Additionally, DO students undergo hands-on training in the musculoskeletal system, called osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). There are many manipulation techniques that can be used to treat functional issues in the bones, joints, tissues and muscles of the body. These treatments can relieve pain, promote healing and increase overall mobility. I often describe OMT to my patients as a mix between getting a massage or a chiropractic treatment, depending on what the DO assesses and finds on the exam. OMT can help patients with a wide variety of issues, from neck, shoulder and back pain to constipation, headaches, and even allergy symptoms and sinus infections. OMT is beneficial because it provides a non-invasive and medication free treatment option for patients, but it can also be used in combination with other medical treatments. Some DO graduates may choose to pursue residency and fellowship training to specialize in osteopathic manipulation, while other DOs may choose to incorporate it in their everyday practices.

Coastal Maine Direct Care has the best of both worlds: an MD and a DO, both board certified geriatricians. We started almost a year ago only seeing adults ages 55 and older. Now we have added a Physician Assistant who sees our younger adult population. OMT is just one of the many services that we provide. Whether we had osteopathic or allopathic training, one thing is for sure, the Coastal Maine Direct Care clinicians all care deeply for our patients!

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