Ask-a-Doctor: What is the difference between an MD and DO?

Greg Nieckula, DO

Greg Nieckula, DO

Dr. Greg Nieckula, CHI Memorial Internal Medicine Associates - Signal Mountain, explains the differences between allopathic physicians and osteopathic physicians, along with their philosophies of treatment in this week’s Ask-a-Doctor.

Q: I need a new doctor, but I don’t know what the difference between an MD and DO is.

A: There are effectively two pathways to earn a medical degree and two types of practicing physicians in the United States: allopathic physicians (M.D.s) and osteopathic physicians (D.O.s). Both complete four years of medical school, are licensed by the same state boards, receive advanced training in diagnosing and treatment of illnesses and disorders, and provide preventative care. M.D.s and D.O.s both provide diagnosis and treatment recommendations based on scientific conclusions.

As for the differences these days, there aren’t many. It boils down to the teaching philosophy.

People are most familiar with the M.D. credentials that are informed by the allopathic approach. This method is a system of medical practice that combats disease by using remedies (like prescription drugs or surgery) to overcome the effects of a disease. The osteopathic approach sees things a little bit differently. It looks beyond the symptoms of an illness to examine the whole person. This approach emphasizes the integration of the entire body’s systems and drives the osteopathic method.

I can’t say that one type of medical degree is better. The doctor you select should be based on your perspective and how you connect with your provider. You should seek to have an open and honest relationship with your provider so you receive the care that is most appropriate to you.

— Greg Nieckula, D.O., CHI Memorial Internal Medicine Associates, Signal Mountain; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society