Doctors of osteopathy and medical doctors are both fully licensed physicians with similar training, according to ExploreHealthCareers.org, but osteopathic doctors also have training in musculoskeletal therapy. In practice, osteopathic doctors are more likely to gravitate toward primary care roles.
Both osteopaths and medical doctors must complete four-year undergraduate degrees followed by four years of medical school and then residencies in their chosen medical specialties, notes ExploreHealthCareers.org. Osteopathic medical students also receive 200 hours of training in osteopathic manipulative medicine, which the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine defines as hands-on diagnosis and treatment through manipulation of muscle and skeletal tissues.
The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which oversees residencies for medical doctors, signed a memorandum of agreement in February 2014 with the American Osteopathic Association and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine to create a unified system of residencies for new physicians graduating from either type of school. This unified training structure comes into effect in June 2020. The intent of this change, as spelled out on the ACGME's website, is to ensure that doctors from both traditions meet the same milestones and demonstrate the same competencies.
Some differences remain. Osteopathic medicine historically focuses on whole-person wellness rather than simply treating illnesses, explains ExploreHealthCareers.org. Osteopathic doctors favor primary-care roles as family physicians, pediatricians, gynecologists, internists and obstetricians. Approximately 65 percent of osteopathic doctors practice in primary care specialties, reports Midwestern University, a school of osteopathic medicine.