Should I go to an M.D. or a D.O. for my primary care?

If you don’t know the difference between M.D. and D.O., read on.

Are you looking for a primary care provider? Confused about the difference between having “M.D.” or “D.O.” after the doctor’s name? We’ve got you covered.

M.D. vs. D.O.

M.D. is an abbreviation used after the name of someone who has a doctor of medicine degree. D.O. is an abbreviation for a doctor of osteopathic medicine’s degree. Both types of doctors are fully trained and licensed, but there are some differences that may make a difference for you as a patient.


Both paths to becoming a physician require students to graduate from an accredited medical school. A tool used to accept students to medical school is the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Students must pass a national medical licensing examination and graduate from medical school. Next, students start a residency program and get a general medical license. From there, doctors can become board certified in their chosen specialty or subspecialty. Allopathic and osteopathic doctors diagnose, treat, and prevent illnesses and injuries.

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Allopathy vs. osteopathy

Allopathic medicine physicians (someone with an M.D. credential) are sometimes described as practicing Western or mainstream medicine. Allopathy treats symptoms and diseases with medications, including over-the-counter medicine and chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and some other therapies.

Osteopathic medicine physicians (those with a D.O. credential) look at more than the absence or presence of disease or pain. Osteopaths emphasize the interconnectedness of all systems in the body and how they work together to heal, prevent disease and affect the body. This “whole-person” approach is practiced in all medical specialties.

Osteopaths also use osteopathic manual medicine (OMM) to physically diagnose, treat or prevent illness or injury. Medical school students will take an additional 200 hours of training to learn OMM. Examples of OMM include:

  • Applying pressure or resistance to specific areas of the body
  • Stretching a limb, such as unfolding the leg
  • Using the hands to feel bones, muscles or organs through the skin

Osteopathy is not chiropractic care

Some of an osteopath’s work may sound like what a chiropractor does. However, they are very different disciplines. Osteopaths are medical doctors, have physicians’ credentials and look at health from a big picture approach. Chiropractors have graduate-level training in chiropractic, but do not perform surgery or prescribe medication. Chiropractors look at how the spine and joints affect pain and mobility.

What type of physician should I seek out? D.O. or M.D.?

It comes down to personal preference, since both types of physicians are fully trained and licensed to practice medicine. It might be a good idea for you to ask friends or family members how their experiences have been with one or the other of these professionals.

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