If you’re trying to determine the difference between an MD and a DO, you almost certainly fit into one of two categories. You’re either a student considering a career in medicine or a patient wondering what exactly the difference is.

What is an MD?

When most people think of a physician, they’re thinking of an M.D. – standing for Medical Doctor or Doctor of Medicine. MD’s practice a form of medicine called allopathic. James Whorton, the man credited with coining the phrase, explained that Doctors of Medicine (M.D.’s) use treatments that affect someone who’s ill differently than someone who’s healthy. For example, an antibiotic taken by someone without a bacterial infection would not improve his or her health.

Medical Doctors (MDs) in the United States attend medical schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).

 What is a DO?

Short for Osteopathic Doctor, DO’s receive their medical degree from a U.S. osteopathic school. Unlike MD’s, a DO is accredited by the American Osteopathic Associate Commission within the Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA).

D.O.’s are trained to have a more holistic approach to medicine and follow a medical philosophy called osteopathic medicine. DO’s are trained to consider a patient’s environment, nutrition, and body system as a whole when diagnosing and treating medical conditions.

Similarities between MD’s & DO’s

  • Both MD and DO physicians base diagnosis and treatment recommendations on scientifically-proven conclusions.
  • Attend 4 years of medical school, plus a residency program ranging from 3-7 years
  • Are licensed by the same state licensing boards, i.e. both MDs and DOs must meet the same requirements to practice medicine
  • Can practice medicine in all 50 states.
  • Are found in every type of specialty medicine.
  • Follow the same undergraduate academic path – a bachelor’s degree, Pre Med coursework, and taking the MCAT

Primary Differences between DOs & MDs

  • Medical students attending osteopathic schools (DOs) must take an additional 200 hours of training learning manipulation techniques of the musculoskeletal system.
  • DO physicians tend to be primary care physicians, whereas U.S.M.D.’s tend to specialize in more specific types of medicine (Dermatology, Cardiology, Orthopedics, etc.)
  • In the United States, 67.4% of active physicians are M.D.s vs. 7.3% which are D.O.s (The remaining 24.2% received their degree from a medical school outside of the United States.)
  • DO students take the Comprehensive Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX). MD medical students take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE).

    Summary: Understanding DO vs MD

    In the United States, doctors are either an MD (allopathic doctor) or DO (osteopathic doctor). For patients, there’s virtually no difference between treatment by a DO vs MD. In other words, you should be equally comfortable if your doctor is an M.D. or a D.O.