What is a D.O.?

D.O. is the abbreviation for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine

Commonly known as Osteopathic Physicians, D.O.s practice a "whole person" approach to medicine. Instead of just treating specific symptoms, osteopathic physicians concentrate on treating the whole patient. They focus on preventive health care and believe that the body is self-repairing, self-sustaining and self-adjusting and that it is the physician's job to help the body heal itself. Osteopathic physicians understand how all the body's systems are interconnected and how each one affects the others. They focus special attention on the musculoskeletal system, which reflects and influences the condition of all other body systems.

This system of bones and muscles make up about two-thirds of the body's mass, and a routine part of the osteopathic patient examination is a careful evaluation of these important structures. D.O.s know that the body's structure plays a critical role in its ability to function. They can use their eyes and hands to identify structural problems and to support the body's natural tendency toward health and self-healing.

Osteopathic physicians also use their ears to listen to you and your health concerns. Doctors of osteopathic medicine help patients develop attitudes and lifestyles that don't just fight illness, but help prevent it too. Millions of Americans prefer this concerned and compassionate care, and have made D.O.s their doctors for life.

More than a Century of Unique Care

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 preventive medicine, eating properly and keeping fit.

Dr. Still pioneered the concept of "wellness" more than 125 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.

Dr. Andrew Taylor Still

21st Century, Frontier Medicine

Just as Dr. Still pioneered osteopathic medicine on the Missouri frontier in 1874, today osteopathic physicians serve as modern day medical pioneers. They continue the tradition of bringing health care to areas of greatest need:

  • Over half of all osteopathic physicians practice in primary care areas such as pediatrics, family practice, obstetrics/gynecology and internal medicine.
  • Many D.O.s fill a critical need for doctors by practicing in rural and medically underserved areas.

Today osteopathic physicians continue to be on the cutting edge of modern medicine. D.O.s are able to combine today's medical technology with their ears, to listen compassionately to their patients; their eyes, to see their patients as whole persons; and their hands, to diagnose and treat injury as well as illness.

Other Facts

Some facts about osteopathic physicians:

  • D.O.s are one of the fastest growing segments of health care providers. Growth in the number of D.O.s is exceeding projections. As of May 2022, there are over 140,000 osteopathic physicians in the U.S.
  • 57% of all D.O.s practice in the primary care area of family practice, internal medicine, and pediatrics, while the remainder provide care in specialty areas, such as emergency medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and surgery.
  • D.O.s represent more than 11% of the total U.S. physician population.
  • D.O. schools had the most graduates providing direct patient care in rural areas.
  • Each year, more than 100 million patient visits are made to D.O.s.