MD vs. DO: What's the Difference?



Sifting through the qualifications of a health care provider can be an exercise in frustration, particularly when their name comes with designations that don’t make their title immediately clear. Most of us know an MD is a doctor of medicine, but what about a DO? What’s the difference? It’s primarily one of philosophy. Both MDs and DOs (doctors of osteopathic medicine) receive the same education and training in medical school, but an MD’s education is mostly allopathic — a system of medicine that aims to combat disease by using remedies such as drugs or surgery — while a DO learns to take more of a holistic, or whole body, approach. Say you have persistent back pain. Absent any obvious injury, an MD might prescribe pain relievers, while a DO might look for other sources of the pain and search for causes ranging from stress to chronic conditions. DOs take environment, nutrition, and overall health into consideration when looking at any one condition. DOs are also taught to place a heavy emphasis on overall wellness, taking a more systemic approach to patient care. The major exception between the two is that DOs get roughly 200 hours of hands-on training on the musculoskeletal system, which involves manipulating or massaging muscle tissue to relieve pain. Whether you select an MD or a DO to guide your care is largely one of personal preference. In the end, it’s the doctor, not the title, that matters.