American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

History of the AOA

The American Osteopathic Association serves as the professional home for more than 123,000 osteopathic physicians and medical students in the U.S. A distinct branch of medical practice, osteopathic medicine is based on a philosophy that all systems of the human body are interrelated, each working with the other to heal in times of illness.

This whole-person approach was pioneered by Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO, a Virginia-born frontier physician, toward the end of the nineteenth century. After three of his children died of spinal meningitis, Dr. Still began searching for a better way to practice medicine.

'A better way'

Following a decade of study, Dr. Still developed a holistic approach emphasizing the musculoskeletal system's role in maintaining good health, as well as the interconnectedness of mind, body and spirit. His philosophy stressed the importance of preventive medicine and used a set of manual techniques, now known as osteopathic manipulative treatment, to help diagnose, treat and prevent illness and injury.  

Dr. Still founded the American School of Osteopathy in Kirsksville, Missouri, in 1892. By 1897, the school had a faculty of 14 and a student body of 280. Today, there are 33 accredited osteopathic medical schools offering instruction at 45 locations throughout the U.S.

Founding the AOA

In 1896, Vermont became the first state to license osteopathic physicians. The following year, a group of students organized the American Association for the Advancement of Osteopathy, which officially became known as the American Osteopathic Association in 1901.   

More than a century later, the AOA still works to advance the mission of Dr. Still by promoting the distinctive philosphy and practice of osteopathic medicine. In addition, the association serves as the primary certifying body for all osteopathic physicians and the accrediting agency for all osteopathic medical schools.

Chief among the AOA's initiatives are promoting public health, encouraging scientific research and helping to ensure quality, cost-effective care for underserved patients.

Due to the osteopathic medical profession's emphasis on whole-person care, many DOs choose to enter primary care, focusing on family medicine, internal medicine or pediatrics. DOs also have a long history of practicing in rural and underserved communities, providing care to those who need it most.

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 A.T. Still, MD, DO, founded the first osteopathic medical school in 1892.