History of Osteopathic Medicine
Osteopathic medicine is a distinctive form of medical care founded on the philosophy that all body systems are interrelated and dependent upon one another for good health. This philosophy was developed in 1874 by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, who pioneered the concept of “wellness” and recognized the importance of treating illness within the context of the whole body.
Osteopathic physicians use all of the tools available through modern medicine including prescription medicine and surgery. They also incorporate osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) into their regimen of patient care when appropriate. OMM is a set of manual medicine techniques that may be used to diagnose illness and injury, relieve pain, restore range of motion, and enhance the body’s capacity to heal.
Physicians licensed as Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs), like their allopathic counterparts (MDs), must pass a national or state medical board examination in order to obtain a license to practice medicine. DOs provide comprehensive medical care to patients in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Currently, there are more than 50,000 DOs practicing in the United States. Reflecting the osteopathic philosophy of treating the whole person, many DOs serve in the primary care areas of family medicine, general internal medicine, and pediatrics, often establishing their practices in medically underserved areas. But many others are found in a wide range of medical specialties including surgery, anesthesiology, sports medicine, geriatrics, and emergency medicine. Still others serve as health care policy leaders at the local, state, and national levels. In addition, an increasing emphasis on biomedical research at several of the osteopathic colleges has expanded opportunities for DOs interested in pursuing careers in medical research.
Andrew Taylor Still was born in Virginia in 1828, the son of a Methodist minister and physician. At an early age, Still decided to follow in his father’s footsteps as a physician. After studying medicine and serving an apprenticeship under his father, Still became a licensed MD in the state of Missouri. Later, in the early 1860s, he completed additional coursework at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Kansas City, Missouri. He went on to serve as a surgeon in the Union Army during the Civil War.
After the Civil War and following the death of three of his children from spinal meningitis in 1864, Still concluded that the orthodox medical practices of his day were frequently ineffective, and sometimes harmful. He devoted the next ten years of his life to studying the human body and finding better ways to treat disease.
His research and clinical observations led him to believe that the musculoskeletal system played a vital role in health and disease and that the body contained all of the elements needed to maintain health, if properly stimulated. Still believed that by correcting problems in the body’s structure, through the use of manual techniques now known as osteopathic manipulative treatment, the body’s ability to function and to heal itself could be greatly improved. He also promoted the idea of preventive medicine and endorsed the philosophy that physicians should focus on treating the whole patient, rather than just the disease.
These beliefs formed the basis of a new medical approach, osteopathic medicine. Based on this philosophy, Dr. Still opened the first school of osteopathic medicine in Kirksville, Missouri in 1892.
About Osteopathic Medicine
Osteopathic medicine is a distinct form of medical practice in the United States. Osteopathic medicine provides all of the benefits of modern medicine including prescription drugs, surgery, and the use of technology to diagnose disease and evaluate injury. It also offers the added benefit of hands-on diagnosis and treatment through a system of therapy known as osteopathic manipulative medicine. Osteopathic medicine emphasizes helping each person achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention.
Osteopathic medicine was founded in the late 1800s in Kirksville, Missouri, by a medical doctor who recognized that the medical practices of the day often caused more harm than good. He focused on developing a system of medical care that would promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself and called this system of medicine osteopathy, now known as osteopathic medicine.
Osteopathic physicians, also known as DOs, work in partnership with their patients. They consider the impact that lifestyle and community have on the health of each individual, and they work to break down barriers to good health. DOs are licensed to practice the full scope of medicine in all 50 states. They practice in all types of environments, including the military, and in all types of specialties, from family medicine to obstetrics, surgery, and aerospace medicine.
DOs are trained to look at the whole person from their first days of medical school, which means they see each person as more than just a collection of organ systems and body parts that may become injured or diseased. This holistic approach to patient care means that osteopathic medical students learn how to integrate the patient into the health care process as a partner. They are trained to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds, and they get the opportunity to practice these skills in their classrooms and learning laboratories, frequently with standardized and simulated patients.
The osteopathic medical profession has a proud heritage of producing primary care practitioners. In fact, the mission statements of the majority of osteopathic medical schools state plainly that their purpose is the production of primary care physicians. Osteopathic medical tradition preaches that a strong foundation in primary care makes one a better physician, regardless of what specialty they may eventually practice.
Today, when the challenge of ensuring an adequate number of primary care physicians extends to osteopathic medicine, the majority of most osteopathic medical school graduates choose careers in primary care. Osteopathic medicine also has a special focus on providing care in rural and urban underserved areas, allowing DOs to have a greater impact on the U.S. population’s health and well-being than their numbers would suggest. While DOs constitute 7 percent of all U.S. physicians, they are responsible for 16 percent of patient visits in communities with populations of fewer than 2,500.
Osteopathic medicine is also rapidly growing! Nearly one in five medical students in the United States is attending an osteopathic medical school.
In addition to studying all of the typical subjects you would expect student physicians to master, osteopathic medical students take approximately 200 additional hours of training in the art of osteopathic manipulative medicine. This system of hands-on techniques helps alleviate pain, restores motion, supports the body’s natural functions and influences the body’s structure to help it function more efficiently.
One key concept osteopathic medical students learn is that structure influences function. Thus, if there is a problem in one part of the body’s structure, function in that area, and possibly in other areas, may be affected.
Another integral tenet of osteopathic medicine is the body’s innate ability to heal itself. Many of osteopathic medicine’s manipulative techniques are aimed at reducing or eliminating the impediments to proper structure and function so the self-healing mechanism can assume its role in restoring a person to health.
In addition to a strong history of providing high-quality patient care, DOs conduct clinical and basic science research to help advance the frontiers of medicine and to demonstrate the effectiveness of the osteopathic approach to patient care. Currently, several organizations are involved in osteopathic clinical research in coordination with the Osteopathic Research Center. The facility’s staff develops, facilitates, and conducts multi-center, collaborative clinical research studies.