ThedaCare Health Matters

Deciphering letters behind a doctor’s name

Recently, one of my colleagues pointed out to me there is some confusion about what the labels of DO and MD after a doctor’s name really means. I had not thought about the distinction since in every day medical practice I do not see a difference. I am not aware of patients making a distinction, but I did some investigating and will try to clarify the labels.

Doctor, by definition, is a label given to an individual who has earned a doctorate degree. It does not have to be in medicine. For example, a recipient of a doctorate in philosophy is referred to as doctor.

When people refer to a medical doctor, they generally refer to someone who will evaluate, diagnose and treat medical conditions and help them in their quest to maintain good health.

Doctors, who graduated from an allopathic medical school and earned a doctor of medicine degree, are referred to as an MD.

Doctors, who attend an osteopathic medical school earn a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree, are referred to as a DO.

What is the difference between allopathic and osteopathic? Simply put, both allopathic and osteopathic medical schools teach disease processes and treatments, but osteopathic medical schools have some additional training in manipulative treatments of musculoskeletal symptoms.

There are 125 allopathic medical schools and 33 osteopathic medical schools in the United States. Because of that, there are more MDs practicing than DOs. However, there tends to be more MDs who specialize while DOs tend to be more likely to go into primary care.

Both MDs and DOs obtain a bachelor’s degree after high school and then attend a four-year medical school (either allopathic or osteopathic). They then go on to a residency-training program, which is in designated fields and can vary in length (usually three to five years) depending on the specialty.

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