Editor’s note, October 6, 2020: This story was originally published in 2019. But in light of the fact that President Donald Trump’s doctor has a D.O. degree, lots of people have been curious about what that means now that Trump has announced he has COVID-19. The bottom line: In the United States, there’s a huge amount of overlap between D.O.s and M.D.s—both degrees are for doctors who go to medical school and residency, along with passing licensing exams. But for the nitty-gritty, keep reading below.
Seeing the letters M.D. after someone’s name signals that they’ve gone through the grueling education and training required to become a licensed medical doctor. But seeing the letters D.O. may spark questions, like…what is a D.O., actually? Are they similar to M.D.s? And, maybe most important, when might you benefit from seeing a D.O.?
Both M.D.s and D.O.s are fully licensed physicians who go through four years of medical school, a licensing exam, and a residency program. Overall, the differences between the two are in their training and philosophy, but even then, there is plenty of overlap.
An M.D. (doctor of medicine) practices traditional Western medicine, sometimes referred to as conventional medicine, which is focused on the treatment and diagnosis of human diseases. A D.O. (doctor of osteopathic medicine) practices osteopathic medicine, which is focused on disease prevention and the musculoskeletal system. But, in reality, most M.D.s also focus on disease prevention, just as most D.O.s also focus on treatment and diagnosis. In fact, a 2007 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Osteopathic Medicine and Primary Care looked at a nationally representative sample of general and family medicine patient-provider interactions between 2003 and 2004. They found no significant difference between D.O. and M.D. physicians when it came to their time spent with patients, counseling of patients, or preventive care.
D.O.s, like M.D.s, can see patients, prescribe medications, and perform surgeries, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. You know, the usual doctorly duties. There are a lot of similarities between the two, but there are also some differences. Here, we’ll go over a few distinctions between a D.O. and an M.D.
In order to become licensed, both D.O.s and M.D.s must complete four years of medical school, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. They typically spend the first two years studying and then two years doing clinical rotations, the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) explains.
One major difference between an M.D. and a D.O. is where they go to medical school. While M.D.s go to one of 152 accredited medical schools, D.O.s attend one of 35 osteopathic medical schools in the United States. These institutions are accredited by the AOA’s Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA), which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. M.D. programs are accredited by a different body: the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.
In general, M.D. schools are often considered to be more prestigious. According to the 2019 U.S. News & World