Medicine: What is a D.O.?

By Dr. Laura Cloukey, Medical Director, The Villages Health Pinellas Care Center

Do you ever see the letters D.O. after a doctor’s name and wonder what they stand for? You may think they are optometrists (which is an O.D.) but guess again. Those letters are a very special signage for a specific type of doctor. Depending on where you grew up, you may or may not know what a D.O. is. It could also be likely that you didn’t know you were with one, or currently have one as your doctor. The differences may be subtle, but they are real.

Outer symptoms, inner diseases

The D.O. stands for Doctor of Osteopathy. The Latin translation of the word broken down is, “osteo” meaning bone and “pathos” meaning suffering. It is a school of thought that was founded by Andrew Taylor Still, M.D/D.O. Look at the signage after his name. He was a turn of the century doctor and surgeon who believed that the human body suffered from internal diseases and the clues to the disease were found in the musculo-skeletal system. Dr. Still was one of the first to see the correlation between outer symptoms and inner diseases. That’s right, the bones and muscles of the human body have something to say about what is going on inside the body.

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The founding father

In the late 1800’s, Dr. Still founded Osteopathic Medicine. He was a state legislator in Kansas at the time, as well as an author and inventor. He was also an eclectic, innovative man. Dr. Still was one of the original founders of Baker’s University, which is the oldest 4-year college in the state of Kansas. Dr. Still also founded the American School of Osteopathy, which was the world’s 1st osteopathic medical school and was located in Kirksville, Missouri.

D.O. verses M.D.

A D.O. is a fully trained and licensed doctor who attended and graduated from a United States osteopathic medical school. An M.D. may have been trained either in the United States or internationally, but graduated from a conventional (allopathic) medical school. The word allopathic in latin stems from “allos” meaning different and “pathos” meaning suffering. This term was coined in the 19th century by Samuel Hahnemann.

There are 34 osteopathic colleges across the United States educating 29,000 future doctors, which represents 20% of all U.S. medical students. For every five doctors, only one will be an osteopath. Osteopathic doctors tend to be focused on primary care. In fact, greater than one-third of the osteopathic graduates choose a career in primary care. D.Os often work in underserved areas, but can also be found in urban settings as specialists, surgeons, and in the military.

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Specialized training

Many medical education programs these days are combined as M.D/D.O. programs. Osteopathic medical students are expected to have an additional 200 hours of study in the musculo-skeletal system. They are trained in the use of osteopathic manipulative techniques (OMT) to alleviate disease and suffering in patients. The traditional M.D. programs do not have this training.

A doctor of osteopathic medicine is trained to address the entire needs of the patient and will often use their palpatory (touch) diagnostic skills and their unique listening abilities to care for those in need. It is this unique training that sets them apart from their allopathic (M.D) counterparts. If you can’t put a finger on why your doctor seems just a bit different, maybe more in touch, they may very well be a D.O. I have been a D.O. for 26 years and remain proud to represent such a fine, patient-oriented profession.

Last updated: 02.12.2018
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Written byDr. Laura Cloukey

Laura Cloukey, DO is Medical Director of The Villages Health® Pinellas Care Center in The Villages®, Florida. Hailing from her hometown of Waltham, Massachusetts, Dr. Cloukey attended the University of Massachusetts for her undergraduate studies and received her medical degree from the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. She did her internship and residency at Carney Hospital and Boston University. She is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years. Prior to coming to Florida, Dr. Cloukey was at the Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital system in Boston, which is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. She relocated to The Villages to join The Villages Health to help build a novel and superior health care system that promises patient-centered care, while delivering informed, relevant care plans and better outcomes.

Coach Image

Written by Dr. Laura Cloukey

Laura Cloukey, DO is Medical Director of The Villages Health® Pinellas Care Center in The Villages®, Florida. Hailing from her hometown of Waltham, Massachusetts, Dr. Cloukey attended the University of Massachusetts for her undergraduate studies and received her medical degree from the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. She did her internship and residency at Carney Hospital and Boston University. She is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years. Prior to coming to Florida, Dr. Cloukey was at the Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital system in Boston, which is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. She relocated to The Villages to join The Villages Health to help build a novel and superior health care system that promises patient-centered care, while delivering informed, relevant care plans and better outcomes.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and it is not meant to be relied on as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult your physician before starting any exercise or dietary program or taking any other action respecting your health. In case of a medical emergency, call 911.

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