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What Is the Difference Between a DO and an MD?

By Chelsea Dolan

Medicine is a huge field with various specialties and skill sets. This means that when people decide to become a doctor, there are a lot of options to consider when deciding which type of medicine they want to practice. Not only that, but they also have to consider the type of degree to obtain.

Two types of doctors you may encounter at a future checkup are DOs or MDs. While they are similar in most ways, there are some key differences between the two types of doctors. Here’s a breakdown of both certifications and what makes each of them unique.

What Is an MD?

If your doctor is an MD, that means they are a doctor of medicine (MD). They are allopathic doctors that practice medicine in traditional ways you may already be familiar with. WebMD says they treat and diagnose medicine with tools such as X-rays, prescription drugs, surgery, and other methods.

Allopathic medicine has also been referred to as conventional or mainstream medicine. They can become primary care doctors, specialize in family medicine, or choose another type of specialties such as surgery or pediatrics.

What Is a DO?

Doctors of osteopathic medicine are referred to in short form as DO. These professionals have similar training to MDs but do fewer methods. WebMD explains how they focus on holistic health and prevention. Everything from a person’s mind, body, and emotions is considered when choosing a form of treatment.

To diagnose patients, DO professionals use physical manipulations and adjustments. They can specialize in certain areas and perform surgery like MDs with the right training. DOs can also prescribe medicine, work in primary care, and perform other doctor duties.

The History of Osteopathic Medicine

It wasn’t always normal for doctors to practice osteopathic medicine. In the late 1800s, Dr. Andrew Taylor Still wanted a better alternative to traditional medicine. He dedicated years of his life studying the human body, eventually discovering the musculoskeletal system is a major factor in health and disease.

The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine explains how his findings became the basis of osteopathic medicine. This approach focuses on the premise that by correcting problems in the body’s structure, its ability to function and improve itself will be greatly improved.

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What Is the Difference Between a DO and Chiropractor?

While some of the hands-on techniques performed by DOs may appear similar to techniques performed by chiropractors, they are two very different fields of practice. The biggest difference is that chiropractors mostly focus on the spine whereas osteopaths have a more holistic approach and focus on the whole body.

Further, DOs can practice medicine like an MD and treat a wider range of ailments compared to chiropractors. DOs can treat everything from respiratory to digestive problems and beyond.

How Many DOs and MDs Are There?

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports there are 938,966 active MD physicians in the U.S. working across 47 specialty categories. The number of DOs is a small number in comparison to the number of MDs. According to the California University of Pennsylvania (CAL U), there are 74,000 licensed in the U.S.

This difference in MD practitioners in the U.S. does not mean they are any less qualified or skilled to be working with patients. There are several possibilities as to why there are fewer DOs. For instance, some future doctors may choose to pursue an MD simply because of the title. Others may just have less of an interest in holistic approaches.

Training for an MD

It’s safe to say that practitioners of medicine must go through intensive coursework and hands-on training to become certified doctors. You must first go through a 4-year undergraduate program, followed by medical school for another 4-years. Upon graduation, you take part in a residency program for anywhere from 3 to 7-years depending on your specialty.

For instance, pediatrics requires 3-years while neurological surgery is a 6 to 7-year commitment. Doctors also have the option of continuing their education in a subspecialty through a 1 to 2-year fellowship program.

Training for a DO

People who wish to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine must go through rigorous training nearly identical to MDs. Again, the main difference in studies is the approach to medicine that focuses on the mind, body, and emotions of a patient.

They have to complete both a 4-year undergrad, 4-years of medical school, as well as a residency program. And just like MDs, those who want to be a certified DO must pass strict national or state medical board examinations to practice medicine.

Jobs for Medical Doctors

So, what exactly can MDs do career-wise once they are fully certified? There are tons of options to pursue with a medical degree. Many doctors may choose to be general practitioners or decide to specialize their skills and focus on one aspect of medicine.

Some examples of specialties an MD can pursue include:

  • Cardiology
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency medicine
  • Orthopedic surgeon
  • Neurology

Jobs for Osteopathic Doctors

With the proper training, osteopathic doctors have the same job opportunities as those with an MD. They can choose to pursue a specialty in medicine and end up working in:

  • Hospitals as a surgeon, emergency department, or other care units;
  • Laboratories to research illnesses, diseases, and injuries, or;
  • Running medical centers.

Most DOs end up working in general or family medicine, general internal medicine, or general pediatrics. CAL U says that many also have a special focus on providing care in underserved rural and urban communities.

Salaries and Job Demand

Whether a doctor chooses to pursue an MD or DO, there is good money to be made. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that physicians and surgeons make among the highest of all occupations. The median wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 (USD) per year.

Doctors will always be needed and the job opportunities for them will not be scarce. According to projections from the AAMC, there could be a shortage of nearly 122,000 physicians by 2033 due to low supply and high demand. This number takes into account the need for both primary and specialty care.

Does It Matter Which Type of Doctor I See?

If you’re wondering whether to see an MD or DO for your next medical appointment, you don’t need to put too much thought into it. Both allopathic and osteopathic practitioners are qualified to consult, diagnose, and help treat injuries and illnesses.

Ultimately, choosing one over the other is a personal preference. The most important part about choosing a doctor is finding one that you feel comfortable with.

Questions to Ask When Searching for a Doctor

To help you decide whether a doctor is a right fit for you, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this doctor listen to me?
  • Do they give me time to ask all of my questions?
  • Are they knowledgeable in a certain field of medicine?
  • Am I comfortable talking to them?
  • Are their services covered under my health insurance plan?

Chelsea Dolan


Chelsea is an experienced writer with a passion for living a healthy life. She does her best at balancing her sugar addiction by going to the gym, parking far away from store entrances, and standing at her work desk from time to time.

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