Osteopathy - DO

Osteopathic medicine is a field of medicine involving a holistic approach of musculoskeletal manipulation to treat patients. Find out about degree requirements, educational prerequisites, practical training and medical licensing.

Is Osteopathic Medicine for Me?

Career Overview

Osteopathic medicine focuses on how pain and ailments are related to problems with the musculoskeletal system, which includes the bones, muscles, ligaments and nerves. To become a doctor of osteopathic medicine, you receive the same basic training as a medical doctor; however, you have additional training in hands-on manipulation techniques. In considering the whole person, DOs take a patient's emotional and physical factors into account when evaluating and treating illness. As a DO, you could treat a wide range of ailments, such as neck pain, respiratory disease, joint injuries and depression. 'Osteopathy' is more limited than osteopathic medicine.

The majority of osteopathic doctors work as primary care physicians in hospitals, clinics, private practices or other healthcare settings. Others conduct research at in medical colleges, universities and research centers. As an osteopathic doctor, you can work in a wide range of medical specialties, such as emergency medicine, obstetrics, pediatrics or sports medicine. Alternatively, you may become a college professor, teaching, conducting research and publishing articles in medical journals.

Employment Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected jobs for physicians and surgeons to grow by 18% between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than the national average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). Furthermore, the BLS expected job prospects for these workers to be particularly good in rural and underprivileged areas, as well as in specialties that pertain to the elderly.

Salaries for physicians and surgeons vary by specialty. The BLS reported that the mean annual salary as of May 2012 for physicians in family and general practice was $183,940, pediatricians earned a mean annual salary of $170,530 and internists earned a mean annual wage of $188,440.

How Can I Become a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine?

Undergraduate Education

To work as an osteopathic physician, you need to become a licensed medical doctor by earning a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. To enroll in a D.O. program, you must have a bachelor's degree and take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Undergraduate coursework should emphasize the biological, physical and social sciences; courses in genetics, anatomy and physiology, physics and chemistry may be especially helpful.

Graduate Education

A typical D.O. program lasts four years. You spend the first two years taking standard medical courses, including disease diagnosis, microbiology, human anatomy and clinical skills. Additionally, you take courses in osteopathic medicine, including musculoskeletal system, osteopathic manipulative medicine and patient communications. The last two years of your osteopathic medicine degree program are spent in clinical clerkships in a medical specialty for hands-on practical training. You spend 3-8 years completing postgraduate internships and residency requirements, where you can choose to specialize in any area of medicine. Common osteopathic specialties include internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and family medicine.


Additional degree options, such as a joint D.O. and Doctor of Philosophy degree, may provide you with the education to become a physician-scientist. This dual degree program may require the completion of a dissertation project in addition to a clinical clerkship.

Licensing and Certification

Like other medical doctors, osteopathic doctors need to obtain state licensure to practice medicine. While state requirements vary, licensure typically involves earning a D.O. from an osteopathic medicine school accredited by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and passing an examination. Most states use the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMEX-USA), which tests candidates at three levels of competency (www.nbome.org).

In addition, the AOA offers voluntary certification in 18 medical specialty areas. You must complete residency and internship requirements in your area of specialty and be an AOA member to become board certified (www.osteopathic.org).

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