When you see the letters M.D. or D.O. next to someone’s name, that means that the person is a licensed physician. However, the letters mean different things. One is a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), and the other is a Doctor of  Medicine (D.O.). Truth is, people usually don’t know what these letters mean and whether there is any difference between these types of licensed physicians. Long story short; of course there is a difference. But, if you’re interested in knowing what those differences are and how they potentially apply to your future medical treatment, then keep reading.

In the following paragraphs, we are going to look at what it means to be a Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. Furthermore, we are going to explore what the major differences between these two professions are, and how you can choose which doctor will treat you.

Etymological Difference

Before we look into the differences between these two professions, it is important to observe the etymological difference in the very meaning of these medical titles. In the medical field, the dictionary can be of big help in discerning what letters like M.D. or D.O. mean and stand for.

  • M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) – etymologically, M.D. means that the person carrying this title is a practitioner of allopathic medicine. Now, allopathic medicine, or allopathy, refers to the modern type of medicine that is science-based and comprises the use of medications, surgery, and other types of treatment of different illnesses and diseases. Allopathic medicine is a system of medical practice that is based on the concept that illnesses and diseases can be treated with medication or drugs. The term ‘allopathy’ can be traced to the 1810s when it was coined by Samuel Hahnemann to describe the type of medicine that is opposed to homeopathy.
  • D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) – etymologically, D.O. means that the person carrying this title is a practitioner of osteopathic medicine. Osteopathic medicine is a distinct branch of medicine that is focused on the idea of preventing medical problems, injuries and illnesses. This branch of medicine is focused on the big picture, the way one’s body functions, and looks beyond the singular and specific symptoms. Nevertheless, osteopathic physicians are trained in modern medicine and also qualified to prescribe medication and further treatments, like surgery for example. Osteopathy as a term can be traced to 1874, when it was coined by Andrew Taylor M.D., D.O., who was a proponent of alternative medicine.

Similarities between Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Osteopathy

Since there are differences between these two titles, let’s first take a look at some similarities;

  • Both M.D. and D.O. are licensed physicians that can diagnose, treat, perform surgeries, and prescribe drugs in every state in the US, based on scientific conclusions.
  • Both M.D. and D.O. can specialize in any type of medical field.
  • Both M.D. and D.O. are licensed by the same licensing boards, and both have to meet the same requirements in order to become medical practitioners.
  • Both M.D. and D.O. have the same pre-requisites for medical school programs.
  • Both M.D. and D.O. have to undergo the same application and admission process.
  • Both M.D. and D.O. take nearly the same classes and have the same curriculum.
  • Both M.D. and D.O. have to acquire a bachelor’s degree, then Pre Med coursework and have to take the MCAT; sometimes CASPer tests as well.

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Major Differences Between Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Osteopathy

  1. Training Differences

Even though both M.D. and D.O. have to undergo nearly the same academic path and attend the same classes, they still need to complete their training programs, which are obviously different. For example, Doctors of Osteopathy need to learn the Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine or the Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment. OMT is actually a set of hands-on methods and techniques used to diagnose, treat and primarily prevent any type of illness, disease or injury. OMT also means that the practitioner is trained to focus on moving the patient’s joints and muscles to help them ease the pain. Stretching, resistance and gentle pressure onto the musculoskeletal system is an advanced form through which the doctor understands the patient’s symptoms and causes.

Male Doctor and patient suffering from back pain during medical exam.

Osteopathy focuses on bone, muscle and spine therapy which is believed to help injuries, and illnesses like back pain, asthma, migraines, menstrual pain, sinus disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc. It is believed that osteopathic medicine is beneficial when it comes to the treatment of tissue abnormalities, joint restrictions, muscle, and tissue balance as well as blood flow throughout the body. Doctors of medicine, on the other hand, are trained to treat illnesses and injuries via medication, diagnostic tests, surgery, etc. M.D. is a modern approach to medicine, so the training is much more strict, technical and technology-based than the D.O. training. However, both M.D.s and D.O.s, have to receive a percentage of the same training, in terms of;

  • Four years of medical school after receiving a bachelor’s degree,
  • One to seven years of a residency program after completing medical school.
  1. Practice Differences

Now, when it comes to difference in practice, one cannot help but notice the fact that Doctors of Osteopathy usually practice the ‘big picture’ medicine, whereas, Doctors of Medicine are more focused on a specific, isolated illness or injury. D.O.s are taught to observe not only the patient’s illness in its isolated form but also to observe the patient as a ‘whole person’, their lifestyle, background, previous illnesses, injuries, etc. This helps the Doctor of Osteopathy to determine a treatment, but also help the patient prevent future illnesses and injuries. Each Doctor of Osteopathy follows the main osteopathy principles, that include the knowledge that the body is a unity of mind, body and spirit, that it can self-regulate, repair and remodel, as well as that the therapy is based on the previously mentioned principles, applied to each human individually.

Doctor and patient discussing something while sitting at the table

Doctors of Medicine, on the other hand, are usually specialized in a certain field of medicine. They focus on illness through study, diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and medication. Doctors of Medicine may be either physicians or surgeons and are specialized in the subfields of the two main medical practices. One could summarize that the Doctors of Medicine believe that they are there to help the body heal, while Doctors of Osteopathy believe that the body can heal itself. M.D.s are definitely more fact-oriented, have a modern approach that is specific, technical, structural, statistical and technology-based.

  1. The difference in Acceptance Rate

Both D.O. and M.D. programs are difficult to get into, especially when we take into consideration the GPA and MCAT scores. However, D.O. programs are generally considered a bit ‘easier’ than the M.D. programs. For example, the average MCAT score for M.D. medical schools in 2019 was 520, while the average MCAT score for D.O. medical schools was 505. When it comes, to GPA, the average for M.D. medical schools was 3.57, while it was 3.43 for D.O. medical schools.

Moreover, M.D. and D.O. programs are known to attract different types of candidates as well. Usually, Doctors of Osteopathy tend to work in primary care, which includes internal medicine, family medicine, and pediatrics. M.D.s, on the other hand, tend to work in specialist medical fields and practice surgery.

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Which is better, D.O. or M.D.?

Now, upon learning the differences between the two titles, many people start wondering which medical practitioner should they choose. Now, there is really no wrong choice here; both M.D.s and D.O.s are equally qualified to provide exceptional treatment and help you get better. Of course, there are differences between the practices of D.O.s and M.D.s, so it is up to you which type of treatment you prefer. If you prefer your doctor being more hands-on, detailed, and keen on alternative medicine than you might want to choose the Doctor of Osteopathy. On the other hand, if you like a more specific, detailed, factual treatment that includes prescribed medication than you should go with the Doctor of Medicine. Either way, the medical services will be impeccable.

Also, before actually choosing your medical practitioner, make sure to consider the following;

  • Look for a doctor you are comfortable talking to; sharing information is important for your doctor, as it can help them figure out what is wrong and how to treat it,
  • Look for a doctor who is empathetic, compassionate, knowledgeable, well-trained and focused on helping you completely,
  • Look for a doctor who takes their time to listen to you and let you ask questions, or take a bit more of their time.


The difference between the Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Osteopathy is fine and usually individual. Many M.D.s tend to provide osteopathic services, or D.O.s provide allopathic services. Both are equally trained, professional and dedicated to their work. So, now that you know more about the meaning behind M.D. and D.O., you can think of your preferences and choose your medical practitioner accordingly. Ultimately, it is important to build a trusting relationship with your doctor, regardless of them being a D.O. or M.D.

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