What is Osteopathy?

The Founder of Osteopathic Medicine

As you probably already know, I have been accepted to the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine.  Now, “What is Osteopathy?” you say?  Well, I’m going to tell you.  The first thing you should know is that doctors who graduate from Osteopathic School (a.k.a. osteopaths or osteopathic physicians) are full-fledged doctors.  Doctors who graduate with their M.D. are known as “allopathic” physicians.

Osteopathy was an alternative system of medicine developed by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still (M.D.) (pictured above) in 1874.  Still had lost three children to spinal meningitis, and he felt that the practices of physicians at the time were often ineffective, and sometimes dangerous.  Still was particularly concerned about the use of alcohol and drugs to cure.  He opened his new school of medicine in none other than (da da da da!) Kirksville, Missouri.

The word “osteopathy” literally means “bone suffering.”  Osteopathic medicine is a “whole person” approach to health care.  There are four main tenets of osteopathy, called “The Osteopathic Principles.”  They are as follows:

  1. The body is an integrated unit of mind, body, and spirit
  2. The body possesses the mechanisms to defend, repair, and remodel itself
  3. Structure and function are reciprocally inter-related
  4. Rational therapy is based on consideration of the first three principles

Furthermore, there is a greater emphasis placed on prevention rather than treatment.  Although Still originally developed osteopathy to treat without the use of drugs, today osteopathic physicians prescribe medicine just as allopathic physicians do.

Osteopathic physicians are trained in a similar way to allopathic physicians, with two years of basic science training, followed by two years of clinical rotations.  Osteopathic physicians also receive an additional 300 – 500 hours in the study of hands-on manual medicine and the body’s musculoskeletal system integrated into the medical curriculum, which is referred to as “Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy” or “OMT.”  Osteopathic physicians graduate with a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree.  D.O.’s have to be board certified, just like M.D.’s, but D.O.’s are required to take a different licensing exam – the COMLEX (Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam).  Some D.O.’s will choose to also take the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Exam).  D.O.’s can then choose to either complete a D.O. or an M.D. (or a military) residency.

That about sums it up.  In addition to these things, it is important to note that osteopathy has a history of training a large number of its physicians to go into primary care.  Although many D.O.’s can and do specialize, primary care is still the emphasis at osteopathic schools. Furthermore, many osteopaths have a desire to serve underserved communities, and this is also encouraged by most osteopathic schools.  (These two reasons played very high into my decision to apply to osteopathic schools.)

Here are just a few fun stats and facts about osteopathy.  I hope you enjoy!

*The practice of chiropractics originate with D.D. Palmer, who developed his theories after spending several weeks with A.T. Still learning about OMT.

*Currently, there are more than 70,000 D.O.s practicing in the United States.

*Osteopathic physicians comprise 7% of the total US physician population

*There are 26 medical schools in 34 locations across the US that offer D.O. degrees. (There are 134 medical schools that offer the M.D. degree.

*As of 2011, 1 in 5 medical students in the United States are DO students.

*The number of applicants to osteopathic medical schools has doubled in the last ten years.

*There are three new osteopathic colleges in the planning stages, in North Carolina, Indiana, and Alabama.


In addition, I found a neat study done on osteopathic vs. allopathic physicians.  The study found that osteopathic physicians are more likely to (1.) discuss preventative measures specific to a patient’s complaint, (2.) discuss health issues in relation to family life, and (3.) discuss the patient’s emotional state.  These were all statistically significant (p<.05).  Here is the link to the article:  http://www.jaoa.org/content/103/7/313.full.pdf .

About emilyehoward

My name is Emily, and I am a Hospitalist in Nebraska. I live with my husband and three beautiful daughters. I hope you enjoy my blog!
This entry was posted in Doctor, Health Care, Medical Student, Medicine, Osteopathy, Physician. Bookmark the permalink.

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