Career Information for HPAG Students: Medicine-Osteopathic

Medicine is the broad field pertaining to all of human health.  Common work encountered depends on one’s field of specialization: it may be general, seeing patients as an initial contact with respect to a health issue, or very specialized, seeing a patient only after referral from a general or family physician.

There are two broad approaches to medicine, allopathic and osteopathic.  Allopathic medicine treats disease by the use of remedies that produce effects different than those produced by the disease.  Also called conventional medicine, and practiced by physicians with an MD degree, allopathic medicine focuses on treating a specific ailment, often by use of pharmaceuticals and surgery.  Osteopathic medicine, however, expands on the tools of allopathic approaches and includes diagnoses and treatments involving a system of therapy known as osteopathic manipulative medicine. Being a more holistic approach, patient treatment focuses on assisting an individual to achieve good health by way of patient education as well as injury and disease prevention.  Doctors of osteopathic medicine earn DO degrees.

This section focuses on osteopathic medicine. 

The Work: Much like allopathic physicians, osteopathic physicians generally evaluate patients when they complain of an illness or discomfort, or upon regular annual physical health assessments.  However, the approach of a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) is more holistic; instead of concentrating on a specific set of symptoms, the entire body’s systems are addressed in ailment assessment and treatment. Special focus is given to the musculoskeletal system, reflecting the influences of this system on the rest of the body.  DOs are fully trained and licensed to prescribe medications and perform surgery, as are allopathic physicians (MDs); the difference is in the philosophy behind the two approaches: individual system and symptom treatment or a more holistic approach.

Specialties: There are more than 112 different specialty areas in medicine.  A few of the more popular are listed below.  DOs may choose to specialize; however the majority are family-oriented, general practice physicians, reflecting the more whole-body approach to medicine. Training for specialties occurs during a physician's residency program and often require 3 years or more of hands–on training at a teaching hospital.

  • Allergy and immunology  
  • Anesthesiology
  • Colon and Rectal Surgery  
  • Dermatology    
  • Emergency Medicine  
  • Family Medicine   
  • Internal Medicine   
  • Medical Genetics  
  • Neurological Surgery  
  • Neurology Surgery
  • Nuclear Medicine   
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology Urology
  • Ophthalmology  
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Otolaryngology
  • Pathology
  • Pediatrics
  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
  • Plastic Surgery
  • Preventive Medicine
  • Psychiatry
  • Radiology
  • Thoracic Surgery

The Work Setting: Work settings for physicians are as varied as the areas of specialties. Most DOs work in small general or family practices.  Working hours vary greatly but are often long and irregular. More than 30 percent of physicians reported working more than 60 hours a week in 2004.

Entry Into Field:  A license to practice medicine is required in all 50 states following completion of a doctoral program in medicine (obtaining an DO), completion of a residency program, and passing licensure examinations.

Education: There are 23 osteopathic medical schools in the United States, including one in Virginia (Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine).  Most DO programs require 4 years of study, including emphasis on basic science, clinical work, and social science.

The first two years of most programs are generally aimed at classroom learning of basic science as it relates to medicine.  Subsequent years of most programs then focus on clinical training.

Compensation:  Physicians typically earn over $100,000 per year, with many earning more.  Specialists typically earn greater amounts, as do physicians working in more metropolitan areas.  Compensation also depends on how skilled one is as a physician and how many hours are spent at work.

Job Outlook: Government economists predict that jobs for physicians will grow faster than the average for all careers through 2014. One reason is that new treatments are being developed and implemented, and people are living longer and will thus require more healthcare as they age.  Job prospects look very promising for those willing to serve in rural and low income areas, although the compensation for such physicians is likely not to be as great as their peers in more affluent and urban areas.

Helpful Web sites:

Department of Labor

Osteopathic Medical Schools in the Region:
Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine
West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine