How to Become an Osteopathic Doctor: Degree, Training & Requirements

Discover the background information for becoming an osteopathic doctor. Below you will find the job duties, degree required, training, salary and job outlook to determine whether this is the right career for you. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Osteopathic Doctor: Facts at a Glance

Osteopathic doctors, or DOs, are known for their holistic approach and generally focus on the musculoskeletal system. It is one of the fastest growing healthcare occupations in the United States; according to the American Osteopathic Association in 2019, 1 in 4 medical students are studying to become DOs. Check out the chart below for key information.

Degree RequiredProfessional degree
Education Field of StudyOsteopathic Medicine
Training Required 3-8 years of internship, residency and (optional) fellowship
Job DutiesExamine, treat, and diagnose patients; order blood tests and X-rays; create a treatment plan; educate patients
Certification/LicensureMedical licensure with the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners
Median Salary (2017)$208,000+ (all physicians and surgeons)*
Job Outlook (2016-2026)13% (all physicians and surgeons)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does an Osteopathic Doctor Do?

DOs are often primary care physicians but may also specialize in other areas of medicine. They focus on assisting the body with its own natural tendency to keep an individual healthy, promoting prevention and self-healing. They often question and inform their patients of how external factors such as their lifestyle are impacting their overall well-being. DOs offer patients comprehensive holistic care with an emphasis on the musculoskeletal system, which includes the muscles, bones and nerves.

What Degree is Required?

According to the American Osteopathic Association, DOs are required to have 4 years of osteopathic medical school where they study holistic patient care and preventative medicine. The entry requirement for medical school is obtaining a bachelor's degree from an accredited university. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) discusses that even though there is no required degree or major before medical school, it is suggested that a few areas of study that are beneficial for prospective physicians would be English, chemistry, biology, physics, and math. During this time, taking time to volunteer at clinics and hospitals is a great way to add additional experience to your resume.

What is The Training?

Upon graduating medical school, you will have to attend 3-8 years of training in your main specialty (such as family care) by completing an internship and residency. After this, you will be able to sit for the examinations to become licensed and board certified. Licensure is required in every state, though requirements vary. The national standardized exam for DOs is the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).

If you would like to become certified in a subspecialty, you are able to earn board certification after completing a fellowship and passing relevant exams. This specialty will be through the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).

What Will I Earn?

In May 2017, the BLS reported that all physicians and surgeons earned a median salary equal to or greater than $208,000 per year. Physicians and surgeons are known to work long hours, irregular schedules, and overnight/on-call hours. Jobs are expected to increase by 13% between 2016-2026. There is a growing elderly population in the United States which is increasing the rates of chronic illnesses; this population is in need of physicians to treat these ailments. Tempering this faster-than-average growth is the continuous development of new technologies will help doctors diagnose and treat more patients faster.

What are Some Alternative Occupations?

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants perform similar duties to physicians but only require a master's degree. Other medicinal practitioners that require extensive training include veterinarians, dentists, chiropractors, podiatrists, and optometrists. Chiropractors focus on bones, nerves, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Podiatrists focus on surgical and medical care for a patient's ankles, feet and lower legs.

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