Difference Between MD and DO

Q. I am moving to a new area of the country and will need a new primary-care physician. My insurance company has given me a list of providers, and several are listed as DOs rather than MDs. I don’t understand the difference. Can you help?

A. In the United States, physicians (medical doctors) who practice medicine hold degrees either as a doctor of medicine (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO). MDs learn from an allopathic perspective, which philosophically focuses on the mainstream medical use of drugs or physical interventions to treat symptoms and disease pathology. DOs are taught from an osteopathic frame of reference, which approaches a patient from more of a wellness perspective, focusing on health education, injury prevention, and disease prevention. The philosophical difference is the primary distinguishing factor between the two. The medical training that both MDs and DOs receive is indistinguishable. MD and DO physicians complete conventional residencies in hospitals and training programs, are licensed in all 50 states, and have identical rights and responsibilities. In actual practice, it is unlikely that you would notice the variations between the two types of physicians.

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Our expert: Jackson Rainer is a board-certified clinical psychologist who practices with the Care and Counseling Center in Decatur, Georgia, helping people living with chronic illnesses. He consults with a variety of experts to answer a selection of readers’ questions in each issue of Pain-Free Living.

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