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Is your doctor a MD or a DO? Did you know that there are two kinds of complete physicians, both fully qualified to perform surgery and prescribe medication? Is there any difference between these two kinds of doctors? The answer is both yes and no. Osteopaths treat disorders of the body by gently moving the spine, muscles, bones and joints. They help to relieve pain and improve the function of the body through techniques of manipulative therapy, medication or surgery.

MDs (allopathic physicians) focus on ridding the body of a specific disease or condition itself, going on the assumption that the disease is causing the patient's suffering. Osteopaths (Doctor of Osteopathy - DO) take a different approach, using the holistic philosophy that a person's body is an interrelated system, not just a collection of different systems. Therefore, each element in the body has an effect on everything else, including the health of the surrounding parts; and, since all these are together in one self-contained system, the whole body is affected by everything we do.

To find the cause of illness, osteopaths today use all of the recognized methods of medical investigation that we are familiar with, from lab tests to x-rays, to CAT scans. Yet the technique for which DOs are most recognized is osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT). OMT is a philosophy and technique that uses touch to repair, relieve or improve the body's functions, either by itself or as part of the overall treatment program. Touching strategic points on the body can give the doctor clues as to what's wrong with the patient. Manipulating body parts encourages the body's natural tendency toward good health. By combining all other medical procedures with OMT, osteopaths offer their patients the most comprehensive care available in medicine today.

Dr. Still is the pioneer of osteopathy and he coined the term "wellness" more than 125 years ago. Wellness consists of a number of internal and external factors, such as lifestyle choices, stress, happiness and other environmental factors. Like the naturopath, the osteopath acts as an educator to help patients take more responsibility for their own well-being and change unhealthy patterns.

The muscles, skeleton and circulation are fundamental to our health. They each work interconnectedly to keep the blood flourishing and our organs pumping. When an accident or infection overwhelms the normal balance of the body, or when one part of the body cannot function properly, the other parts will suffer. When this happens, osteopathic philosophy says that restoring the body's normal harmony in a holistic approach will relieve the ailment and restore the whole body back to health.
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  Interests and Skills  
Osteopaths must be knowledgeable in all areas of osteopathic medicine, which includes both conventional and manipulation theories. They need great communication skills to establish a rapport with patients and gain their trust and confidence. They need emotional strength, maturity and must truly believe in this type of medical practice. They enjoy gathering information by observing, interviewing and examining patients and providing holistic treatments.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Diagnose and treat diseases and injuries of human body, relying upon accepted medical and surgical modalities
  • Examine patients to determine symptoms attributable to impairments in musculoskeletal system
  • Correct disorders and afflictions of bones, muscles, nerves and other body systems by medical and surgical procedures and when deemed beneficial, manipulative therapy
  • Employ diagnostic images, drugs and other aids to diagnose and treat bodily impairments
  • Osteopaths generally work long days, about 60 hours per week. They may work rotating shifts or be on call. When on call, they can be called into the hospital at any time, day or night. Some also work evenings and weekends to accommodate patient's schedules. In a typical day, osteopaths see a succession of patients, and may spend a considerable amount of time driving to hospitals, clinics and/or patients' homes. This occupation can be both emotionally demanding and emotionally rewarding.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most osteopaths work in private practice. Some are employed by regional health authorities. Those who do not choose private or group practice may be employed in medical research, public health, occupational medicine, health administration, overseas service, or military service. Some also work in professional sports or as Olympic team physicians.

  Long Term Career Potential  
As with other health professions, osteopathic practices take time to build and success depends on individual initiative, experience and ability. Therefore, many osteopaths remain in the business of medical and holistic healing. Some may become teachers at universities or work within communities promoting osteopathic medicine and wellness healing.

  Educational Paths  
Osteopaths start out with an undergraduate bachelor's degree in science or arts and then attend a four-year osteopathic medical school program, similar to allopathic medical schools. The osteopathic educational program includes 1,200 hours of mandatory training and 375 hours of optional class work over five years. Upon completion, DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) students have two years to submit a thesis to an international jury. DOs receive specific training of the musculoskeletal system, including the nerves, muscles and bones. A one-year medical residency is also required. Their training focuses more on holistic healing and understanding the ways that an injury or illness in one part of your body can affect other parts.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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