What Is a DO Degree? Exploring Its Role in the Medical Field


Students seeking medical studies will find themselves facing a crucial decision: choosing between an MD (Doctor of Medicine) and DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) degree. While both professions share similarities, the differences are just as striking. The main difference lies in the approach to patient care, with DOs using a holistic approach and stressing the importance of the body as a whole when treating medical conditions.

Understanding what is a DO degree is essential for aspiring doctors, as they navigate their potential career paths. In this comprehensive guide, we invite you to learn more about this degree. Keep reading to discover what DOs do, how to become one, and whether this is the right career for you!

Understanding the Basics

First, it’s important to understand what a DO degree is and where it leads. Understanding the requirements of this degree and what an osteopathic doctor’s job entails will help you guide your decision and ensure it matches your future goals.

What Is a DO Degree?

A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) is a professional degree for physicians. Students learn about the entire body, with a special emphasis on the musculoskeletal system, using hands-on treatment methods. This degree promotes a blend of traditional medicine and a holistic approach to treating patients. Furthermore, DO students dive deep into how lifestyle, environment, and mental health can affect physical well-being.

Quite similarly to an MD (Doctor of Medicine), a DO is equipped with all the skills and knowledge to assist patients, like prescribing medicine and performing surgery. The difference, though, is that a DO learns extra about the body’s muscles and bones during their studies, and uses hands-on treatments to help people. They focus a lot on preventing illness and believe in the body’s power to heal itself. This approach is called Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT).

What Does an Osteopathic Doctor Do?

Osteopathic doctors look at the body as a whole when dealing with patients, not just where it hurts. This holistic perspective means they consider your physical, emotional, and mental health in every diagnosis and treatment plan since they believe these are interconnected. DOs are trained to use their hands in diagnosing and healing, applying techniques that help with the body’s muscles, bones, and joints, promoting better movement and health.

Preventive care is a cornerstone of their practice. They emphasize the importance of preventing diseases before they start by encouraging a healthy lifestyle. This includes advice on nutrition, exercise, stress management, and avoiding harmful habits. By doing so, DOs aim not only to cure diseases but also to empower patients to achieve and maintain optimal health, demonstrating a commitment to the whole person’s well-being.

What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a DO?

It’s one thing knowing what a DO degree is. Before envisioning yourself as a DO, you must also understand the qualifications you need to become one. This includes university education and practical experience combined.


To become a doctor with a DO degree, you start by doing undergraduate studies for about four years. This is usually a bachelor’s degree, where you take science courses like biology, chemistry, and physics to prepare for medical school. After completing your undergraduate studies and the required premedical coursework, you’ll need to pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and finally be eligible to apply to osteopathic medical schools.

In medical school, you learn a lot about different diseases, the human body, and how to treat patients. You also get special training in treating the body’s muscles and bones with your hands.  This is another four years of schooling. The first two years usually focus on classroom and laboratory work, covering basic medical sciences and diagnostic skills. The last two years involve clinical rotations, where you gain hands-on experience in various medical specialties under the supervision of experienced physicians. This is where the principles of osteopathy come to life as you learn how to apply a holistic approach to patient care.


For someone studying to be a DO, getting hands-on experience is key. This journey starts in medical school with clinical rotations. Here, students work in different parts of a hospital or clinic, like family medicine, pediatrics, or surgery, to see various aspects of healthcare in action. It’s a way to apply what they’ve learned in class to real-life situations and interact with patients.

After medical school, the next big step is residency. This is a must-do and can last between 3 to 7 years, depending on the chosen medical specialty. During residency, DOs work closely with patients under the guidance of experienced doctors, gaining deep knowledge and skills in their chosen area. Some might choose to do even more training through fellowships, especially if they want to specialize further. These experiences are crucial for building the expertise needed to practice medicine effectively and compassionately.

Is a Career as a DO Worth It?


Choosing a career as a DO has its ups and downs. On the bright side, DOs make a good income, with an average salary of around $230,644 a year. They also often feel happy in their jobs because they get satisfaction from helping people get better using a unique approach that focuses on the whole body, not just one part. This can make their work very rewarding.

However, becoming a DO takes a lot of time and hard work. It requires at least eight years of education after high school, plus more years of training in hospitals. This long road to becoming a doctor can mean a lot of student debt and delayed earnings. Doctors can also have busy schedules, making it hard to balance work and personal life, especially during their early career stages. But for many, the chance to make a real difference in people’s lives makes it worth it.

Bottom Line

Doctors of Osteopathy are in a lane of their own, providing patient care by focusing on the human body as a whole, and identifying physical, emotional and mental connections. It is a job that pays well. Many DOs also find their job satisfying because they not only help people feel better but also promote a healthier lifestyle. However, the journey to become a DO is long and requires a lot of hard work, including years of study and training. Balancing work and personal life can be challenging due to the demanding hours, especially during residency.

So, if you’re passionate about a holistic approach to medicine and committed to the long educational path, a career as a DO can be very rewarding, both personally and professionally.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What is the difference between an MD and a DO?

The difference between an MD (Doctor of Medicine) and a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) lies in their approach and training. DOs receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system and emphasize a holistic approach to patient care.

Are doctors of osteopathy real doctors?

Yes, doctors of osteopathy (DOs) are real doctors. They are fully licensed to practice medicine, perform surgeries, and prescribe medications in all 50 states of the U.S.

How long is a DO vs MD school?

Both DO and MD programs typically require four years of medical school. However, DO students may have additional training in osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT).

Are DOs becoming more popular?

Yes, DOs are becoming more popular, with an increasing number of students pursuing osteopathic medicine. This growth is partly due to a wider acceptance of holistic approaches to medicine and the expansion of osteopathic medical schools.

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