Osteopathic Physician (D.O.)

Osteopathic Physician Overview

Osteopathic physicians, or D.O.s, are one of the two types of licensed physician found in the United States today. Like their MD counterparts, D.O.S are fully qualified and trained to prescribe medication, perform surgery, diagnose injury and illness, and treat patients. It may come as a surprise to learn that about one fifth of all medical students are studying to become osteopathic physicians.




The major difference between D.O.s and MDs is that the former take a more holistic approach to medical care and also make use of osteopathic manipulative medicine. This latter involves active manual manipulation of the musculoskeletal system.

There are two things that set osteopathic physicians apart: they believe that the body has a great capacity for healing itself of illness or injury, and that an injury or imbalance in one part of the body can cause detrimental effects not only on the part impacted directly, but also on other areas of the body. D.O.s use manipulation of the muscles and joints to help restore the normal balance of the body and help the body regain its health in a more natural fashion.

Like allopathic doctors, D.O.s can be found in family practice, pediatrics, gynecology, emergency medicine, and anesthesiology. Many D.O.s practice in rural areas where the population may have difficulty finding medical care. There are nearly 70,000 osteopathic physicians in the United States, and more colleges are being added to the 29 already in existence for their training.




Critical Thinking

Must use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.

Understand Complex Medical Data

Must be able to interpret complex medical data and draw conclusions.

Complex Problem Solving

Must be able to identify complex problems and develop and evaluate corrective options and implement solutions.


Must be able to pinpoint small details that could make or break patient diagnosis and evaluation.


Must effectively communicate with your co-workers to ensure the best care and the proper procedures. Must be able to communicate in high-stress environments.

Mathematics & Science

Must know about the human body and interactions it has with it's environment. Must know how to solve complex mathematical equations.

Systems Analysis & Evaluation

 Determining how a system should work in order to fix it if problems arise.


Working Conditions


As with all physicians, osteopathic physicians can work on their own or be part of a team or clinic. D.O.s can be found not only in rural areas, but also in urban ones where family health clinics are often in short supply. In most cases, the D.O. will be a family doctor, or primary care physician.


Salary Outlook

How to Become an Osteopathic Physician 


To become an Osteopathic Physician, you must first earn a Bachelor's Degree. It would be a good idea to take a pre-med program course in college as you need courses heavy in math and science. The courses differ depending on which path you choose, but some of the courses are the same, mainly the math, sciences, and some psychology courses. You need to make sure you get the proper pre-requisites for medical school.

A course load for pre-med might look like the following: 


Grade Level Example Courses

Freshman Year


  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • Biology & Lab
  • Calculus I
  • English 101
  • English 102
  • Humanities Requirement
  • Physics I & Lab
  • Physics II & Lab

Sophomore Year

  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Fundamentals of Microbiology & Lab
  • Genetics
  • Physiology 
  • Humanities Requirement
  • Electives

Junior Year


  • Cell Structure & Function
  • General Virology & Lab
  • Microbial Genetics & Lab
  • Biochemistry I
  • Biochemistry II
  • Physics
  • Electives

Senior Year

  • Upper Level Biology
  • Upper Level Chemistry
  • Upper Level Physics
  • Upper Level Psychology
  • Upper Level Kinesiology 
  • Electives


Be sure to keep your grads high, as medical school admissions are very competitive. You need to start prepping for the MCAT as well, because you need to take it to advance.


2. Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)


To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills. 


The MCAT is divided into four sections:


Section/Category  Section Breakdown
Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics

Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior

  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology
Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills
  • 53 multiple-choice questions
  • 90 minutes
  • Tests reading comprehension, humanities, and social sciences


You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the AAMC website here.


3. Earn a Medical Degree (4 Years)


When you go to medical school, you want to choose the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program. The DO degree focuses on many of the same things a MD program focuses on, but it also teaches you osteopathic manipulative medicine. You should know you are facing 4-5 years in medical school.

Your first couple of years will focus on the following:

  • Basic pathology
  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Other life sciences

In the second half of the program, you will work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to advance your skills and focus in on Osteopathic Medicine. You will learn alternative procedures and how to manipulate the musculoskeletal system. You will work in clinical settings to learn about specialties and gain needed experience in your field.


4. Earn the Required License & Certification


After you complete medical school you have to apply for your medical license and after all your training, you can apply to take an exam (depending on your specialty) and get your Board Certification

Since you will graduate from a DO program, you can take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA). There are three different levels to the exam. 

Level one comes in your second year of medical school

COMLEX-USA Level 1 is a problem-based and symptom-based test that gauges your foundational and basic knowledge of the following:

  • Biomedical Sciences of Anatomy
  • Behavioral Science
  • Biochemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Osteopathic Principles
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology

The exam consists of two, four-hour computer-based test sessions during one day, containing a total of 400 test questions which are either best answer, multiple choice, or matching. 

Passing of COMLEX-USA Level 1 indicates you know the foundations of biomedical sciences and osteopathic principles required to solve clinical problems.

Level two at the end of your third year

The second level integrates the clinical disciplines of the following:

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Family Medicine
  • Internal Medicine
  • Obstetrics/Gynecology
  • Osteopathic Principles and Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatry
  • Surgery

This exam consists of another 400 questions that are the same format as level one. It will show you have the skills to go into graduate medical education. 

Level three during postgrad training 

 Level 3 tests all the things level 2 does, but it shows you're competent to manage patients in unsupervised  clinical settings. 

Once you get your medical license you will move on to complete your residency and hone in on your skills.


 5. Complete a Residency Program (4 Years)


After medical school, you have to complete your residency. During this time, you will be supervised by other healthcare professionals and get hands on training to build upon your skills and confidence, to allow you independent practice. During your residency, you can expect to work from anywhere to three to eight years in a clinical or hospital setting. It's here you can really hone in on your skills and build upon your knowledge.


6. Maintain Certification Through Continuing Education


Continuing education is required so you can renew your license. The minimum continuing education hours and time restrictions vary by state. AOA members are required to obtain 120 credit hours in a three-year cycle.