A doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) is a physician licensed to practice medicine, perform surgery, and prescribe medication.
Like allopathic physicians (or M.D.s), osteopathic physicians complete 4 years of medical school and can choose to practice in any specialty of medicine. However, osteopathic physicians receive an additional 300 - 500 hours in the study of hands-on manual medicine and the body's musculoskeletal system.
Osteopathic medicine is dedicated to treating and healing the patient as a whole, rather than focusing on one system or body part. An osteopathic physician will often use a treatment method called osteopathic manipulative treatment (also called OMT or manipulation) -- a hands-on approach to make sure that the body is moving freely. This free motion ensures that all of your body's natural healing systems are able to work unhindered.
Osteopathic physicians hold to the principle that a patient's history of illness and physical trauma are written into the body's structure. The osteopathic physician's highly developed sense of touch allows the physician to feel (palpate) the patient's "living anatomy" (the flow of fluids, motion and texture of tissues, and structural makeup).
Like M.D.s, osteopathic physicians are licensed at the state level. Osteopathic physicians who wish to specialize may become "board certified" (in much the same manner as M.D.s) by completing a 2- to 6-year residency within the specialty area and passing the board certification exams.
D.O.s practice in all specialties of medicine, ranging from emergency medicine and cardiovascular surgery to psychiatry and geriatrics. A majority of osteopathic doctors use many of the medical and surgical treatments that are used by other medical doctors.
See also: Types of health care providers