Osteopathic medicine is a unique form of American medical care that was developed in 1874 by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still. Dr. Still was dissatisfied with the effectiveness of 19th century medicine. He believed that many of the medications of his day were useless or even harmful. Dr. Still was one of the first in his time to study the attributes of good health so that he could better understand the process of disease.
In response, Dr. Still founded a philosophy of medicine based on ideas that date back to Hippocrates, the father of medicine. The philosophy focuses on the unity of all body parts. He identified the musculoskeletal system as a key element of health. He recognized the body’s ability to heal itself and stressed preventative medicine, eating properly and keeping fit.
Dr. Still pioneered the concept of “wellness” over 100 years ago. In today’s terms, personal health risks-such as smoking, high blood pressure, excessive cholesterol levels, stress and other lifestyle factors-are evaluated for each individual. In coordination with appropriate medical treatment, the osteopathic physician acts as a teacher to help patients take more responsibility for their own well-being and change unhealthy patterns.
To become an osteopathic physician, an individual must be a graduate of one of the nation’s osteopathic medical schools. Each school is accredited by the Bureau of Professional Education of the American Osteopathic Association. This accreditation is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council on Post-Secondary Education. Typically, applicants to osteopathic medical colleges have a four-year undergraduate degree, and complete specific science courses. Applicants must take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Osteopathic medical schools also require a personal interview to assess the student’s interpersonal communication skills.
The osteopathic curriculum involves four years of academic study. As a reflection of the osteopathic philosophy, the curriculum emphasizes preventive medicine and holistic patient care. Medical students learn to use osteopathic principles and techniques for diagnosis and treatment of disease throughout the curriculum.
After completing osteopathic medical college, D.O.s serve a one-year rotating internship, gaining hands-on experience in internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, family practice, pediatrics and surgery. This experience ensures that osteopathic physicians are first trained as primary care physicians-even if they plan to pursue a specialty. The internship provides every D.O. with the perspective to see and treat every patient as a whole person.
Most D.O.s then choose to complete a residency program in a specialty area such as internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, radiology, or pathology. A residency typically requires from two to six years of additional training.
All physicians (both D.O.s and M.D.s) must pass a state medical board examination in order to obtain a license and enter practice. Each state board sets its own requirements for the physician to practice in that state.