How to choose between an M.D. or D.O.
when choosing a doctor

Differences Between MD and DO

The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine estimates that more than 20 percent of current medical students are studying to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.).  We asked Swedish Covenant Medical Group Internal Medicine Physician Angel Rivera, D.O., and Cardiologist Steve Attanasio, D.O., to help explain the differences between an M.D. and a D.O. and what these differences mean for the individual receiving care.

1. What is a D.O.?

Dr. Rivera: Licensed physicians in the U.S. must be either an M.D. or a D.O. The acronym M.D. stands for medical doctor, while D.O. is short for doctor of osteopathic medicine. The titles do not refer to a specialty. For example, I am a D.O. that works as an internal medicine physician, but there are D.O.s and M.D.s who specialize in pulmonary disease, neurosurgery, psychiatry, etc. 

Dr. Attanasio: Osteopathic physicians are fully licensed physicians who can practice medicine and surgery in all 50 states and are recognized in 65 other countries, including all Canadian provinces. A doctor of osteopathic medicine can practice in every medical specialty based on the specific training they receive. 

2. What are the differences between M.D.s and D.O.s?

Dr. Attanasio: D.O.s are trained to consider the whole person and not just specific medical problems. We seek to understand the complex interactions of medical issues and how they relate to the overall health and wellbeing of the patient. The medical training received is the same as those receiving an M.D. degree, but D.O.’s require additional training in osteopathic manipulative treatment (O.M.T.)

Dr. Rivera:
The differences between D.O.s and M.D.s are the additional training that D.O.s receive, osteopathic manipulation and the integrative philosophy that we apply to medicine. D.O.s look at the “total person”—including their environment and its impact on the patient’s health—to promote preventive care instead of just treating symptoms. 

Different Types of Doctors

3. How does osteopathic manipulative medicine work?

Dr. Rivera: Osteopathic manipulative medicine is a hands-on approach to treatment which includes physically manipulating targeted areas of the body to improve circulation, release tension and balance muscles, providing the patient with a better foundation to begin healing. Osteopathic physicians use these tools in addition to what people typically view as modern medicine, which can include prescription drugs, surgery and technology. All D.O.s are trained in these techniques, but the degree to which they use them in their practice is up to the specific physician. 

Dr. Attanasio: Osteopathic medicine focuses on the relationship of the body’s nerves muscles, bones and organs and the body’s innate ability to heal itself. OMT is therapy which can provide an adjunctive treatment modality for many health conditions. It is not a substitute for medication and it is often used in conjunction.

4. How common are D.O.s?

Dr. Rivera: We are seeing recent growth in the number of D.O.’s in the United States, and one of the reasons is that the education and training programs for M.D.s and D.O.s are becoming increasingly aligned with one another. D.O.s are growing in popularity, and Swedish Covenant Health’s medical staff has osteopathic physicians in a wide variety of specialties, including family medicine, emergency medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine and pediatrics. 

Dr. Attanasio: I encourage you to take notice of doctors that are or may have treated you in the past, because many of them may have been or are D.O.s. 

5. How can patients tell which type of doctor is best for them?

Dr. Rivera: Determining whether to see an M.D. or a D.O. is entirely personal. The most important thing is being comfortable with whomever you choose and trusting their ability to care for you. A good physician should be willing to take the time to educate you, listen to concerns and answer questions in addition to treating you for illness. 

Dr. Attanasio: Both M.D.s and D.O.s are fully trained and licensed to prescribe medicine and practice in all medical and surgical specialties and subspecialties. It is important to establish a relationship with your provider and ultimately choose which physician is a better fit for you. It should not be based on the type of degree but the confidence and trust built in your relation with the physician. 
rivera w borderDr. Angel Rivera, D.O., is a board-certified internal medicine physician with Swedish Covenant Group. His clinical interests include endocrinology, integrative and functional medicine, lifestyle and exercise and cardiopulmonary. 

Attanasio w borderSteve Attanasio, D.O., is a board-certified cardiologist with Swedish Covenant Medical Group. He is board certified in cardiovascular disease, interventional cardiology, echocardiography and internal medicine. His specialties include interventional cardiology and peripheral arterial disease. 

To make an appointment with Dr. Rivera or Dr. Attanasio, or to review our other physicians by specialty, insurance, language, gender, zip code or more, visit our Find a Doctor page

By David Modica | Published July 13, 2016
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