American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Frequently Asked Questions

About DOs

Q: What is the official definition of a DO?

A: DOs, n. fully licensed osteopathic physicians who specialize in all areas of medicine; founded on philosophy of treating people, not just symptoms. For more information, please see What is a DO?

Q: What is the difference between a DO and an MD?

A: DOs and MDs are alike in many ways, but osteopathic medicine is a parallel branch of American medicine that has a distinct philosophy and approach to patient care. DOs practice a "whole person" approach to medicine and focus on preventive health care. They also receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system and osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), in which osteopathic physicians use their hands to diagnose illness and injury. Learn more about the DO difference.

Q: How many years do DOs attend medical school?

A: DOs attend osteopathic medical school for a period of four years, which includes clinical and classroom learning.

Q: What is the DO symbol and what does it represent?

A: The DO symbol is called the Staff of Aesclepius (often spelled Aesculapius) and consists of a single serpent encircling a staff, or classically a rough-hewn knotty tree limb. The staff was named after a skilled physician who practiced in Greece around 1200 BC. The term can also be found in Homer's Iliad. Aesclepius is commonly referred to as the Greek god of healing.

How to Find a DO

Q: How can I locate a DO in my state?

A: Use the Find a DO feature on any page of this site.

Q: How many DOs are there in the United States?

A: Currently, there are more than 80,000 DOs in the United States.

Q: How many DOs are there in my state?

A: Access the latest Osteopathic Medical Profession Report to find out the number of DOs in your state as well as other statistical information about the osteopathic medical profession.

Osteopathic Medical Education

Q: How many osteopathic medical schools are there in the United States and how can I locate one?

A: There are 29 osteopathic medical colleges (COMs) in 37 locations throughout the United States. To locate an osteopathic medical school, please view the complete listing of COMs.

Q: How can I apply to an osteopathic medical college?

A: All prospective students can use the application service through the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.

Q: How can I find statistics/rankings to help me choose the best osteopathic medical college?

A: The AOA does not rank its colleges. All osteopathic medical colleges must comply with the AOA's Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation standards.

Q: Who do I contact about DO shadowing?

A: The AOA strongly believes that mentoring is an essential component of the learning experience for students, interns, residents and young practitioners. Learn about the AOA iLEARN Program.

Certification

Q: What does it mean to be board certified?

A: Board certification, through one of the 18 specialty certifying boards of the AOA, means an osteopathic physician has successfully completed the necessary education and postdoctoral training to submit to evaluation and examination by the certifying boards. DOs who successfully pass the examination and evaluation process in their specialty of choice are then said to be board-certified or Diplomates of the examining board.

In most cases, DOs who wish to become certified must complete the following:

  • Must be a graduate of an osteopathic medical school.

  • Have applied to and been accepted as a registrant by the appropriate specialty board.

  • Have documented the satisfactory completion of an AOA-approved internship and the completion of the practice requirement.

  • Have documented the satisfactory completion of an AOA-approved residency or preceptorship program if applicable.

  • Have met all the requirements as established by the appropriate specialty board.

  • Are and remain members in good standing of the AOA or the Canadian Osteopathic Association.

Q: Which areas of medicine can DOs be certified in?

A: Osteopathic physicians can become certified through one of the AOA’s 18 certifying boards. In addition, upon obtaining primary certification, DOs can also seek additional certification in subspecialty areas such as cardiology and maternal fetal medicine, and in areas of Added Qualifications such as Sports Medicine and Geriatric Medicine.

Q: Can a DO be certified by an MD (allopathic) board?

A: Yes. Osteopathic physicians can receive certification through one of the member boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). In order to become board-certified through an ABMS Board, physicians must meet the requirements of that Board.

Q: How can I find out if a DO is certified by an osteopathic specialty board?

If you are a credentialer:

Credentialers who wish to obtain primary source verification on certification, and other comprehensive information, can do so by obtaining an AOA physician profile online. You may also contact the American Osteopathic Information Association at (800) 621-1773, extension 8285 or by email at credentials@osteopathic.org. The cost of the profile is $20 online; $25 for regular mail, profiles sent via regular mail take five business days for delivery; $30 for fax.

If you are a prospective patient:

Patients who would like to check the certification status of a DO can contact the AOA Member Service Center at (800) 62-1773, Option 1 in the menu.

About OMT

Q: What sorts of injuries/illness can OMT treat?

A: A 1999 study released in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that OMT is not only an effective and low-cost form of treatment for low back pain but also a treatment that decreased the need for medications and surgery. In addition to being used to treat low back pain and musculoskeletal abnormalities, OMT can be used to treat asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, menstrual pain, sinus disorders and migraines.

DO Comments/Complaints

Q: Who do I contact to file a complaint against a DO or to find out if a DO has complaints on file?

A: In order to file a complaint against a DO, or to find out about complaints filed against a DO, contact the medical board in the state where the DO practices.

Q: Who do I contact if I feel that a DO has violated the AOA Code of Ethics?

A: Complaints regarding unethical conduct are reviewed by the AOA’s Bureau of Ethics. Complaints must be signed and submitted in written format to the following address: 

AOA Bureau on Ethics
C/O Josh Prober, JD
American Osteopathic Association
142 E. Ontario St.
Chicago, IL 60611-2864

Q: How can I give praise to my DO for being a great doctor?

A: There isn’t a formal process for providing praise for your doctor. However, you can write your DO a letter stating your appreciation for the excellent medical care you and your family receive from him/her. In addition, you can write to your health insurance company letting it know that your DO is a great medical care provider. Lastly, when family, friends or co-workers ask you to recommend a good physician, you can give them the name of your DO.

About the AOA

Q: How long is the term of the AOA President?

A: The term of the AOA president and president-elect is for one year. View a complete list of all AOA leadership.

Q: How can I locate a staff member or department at the AOA?

A: Visit our Contact Us page for assistance.

Q: Does the AOA have an international organization?

A: Yes. The AOA's Bureau of International Osteopathic Medicine provides organizational leadership that unifies osteopathic medical education and practice throughout the world. The purpose is to ensure the continued advancement of the American model of osteopathic medicine internationally.

Research

Q: I am doing research on a specific medical term.  Where can I get information on this topic?

A: The best place for online research is PubMed, run by the National Library of Medicine.

Q: Where can I obtain a reprint of an article that appeared in the JAOA-The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (JAOA) or The DO?

A: To obtain copies of past AOA publications, contact AOA circulation staff at circulation@osteopathic.org. You may also access both publications online; The JAOA is at www.jaoa.org and The DO at thedo.osteopathic.org.

Insurance

Q: Does my insurance plan cover DOs?

A: Most insurance plans cover DOs. To find out the specifics about your particular health plan, please contact your insurance provider.