Osteopathic medicine is a form of medical practice that uses osteopathic manipulative treatment of the musculoskeletal system to help promote the body’s ability to heal itself. Osteopathic physicians specialize in any field of medicine, including surgery, obstetrics, family medicine, and pediatrics. These professionals are licensed to practice medicine in all 50 states. What differentiates osteopathic physicians from medical doctors is the hands-on diagnosis and treatment they provide. They focus on disease prevention and health promotion, as well as personal attention to the patient, which is the core of their education.
Osteopathic medical schools offer programs that incorporate a holistic approach to each concentration. Whatever their specialty, students in an osteopathic medicine PhD degree program are taught and trained to incorporate the patient into the health care process. Professionals who have osteopathic training treat a patient’s symptoms by understanding how each part of the body’s system is connected and how they interact and affect one another. Many issues are caused by structural problems in the body, which osteopathic physicians are trained to recognize and correct. They also work with patients to help develop attitudes and make changes in their lifestyle that will lessen the tendency for issues to arise, allowing their bodies to naturally heal and defend itself against illness and disease.
About PhD Programs in Osteopathic Medicine
All osteopathic medical schools only offer on-campus doctoral programs, although this may change in the future. To obtain licensure your degree must be earned through a program accredited by the American Osteopathic Association’s Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation. An osteopathic PhD degree program is composed of four years of full-time graduate course work divided into two-year sections: pre-clinical education and clinical education. You may choose to specialize in the area of medicine that interests you, which will determine which courses you are required to complete. However, osteopathic philosophy is incorporated into the curriculum of whatever specialization you choose, focusing on comprehensive patient care and preventative medicine. The following is a list of courses found in Ph.D. programs at various accredited osteopathic medical schools:
- Human Structure I: Musculoskeletal Anatomy. This foundational course familiarizes students with the structure and function of the musculoskeletal system, which is essential for being able to identify, diagnose, and treat abnormalities, dysfunction, and disease. This course involves classroom instruction and hands-on laboratory training.
- Gross Anatomy and Embryology. The course covers the different regions of the body, focusing on the embryological basis of adult anatomy and how malformations develop. The course consists of classroom lectures, case studies, and laboratory dissections.
- Osteopathic Principles & Practice I. Students in this course learn how to apply the osteopathic approach to diagnosing and treating patients. Students will also learn about the history, philosophy, and principles of osteopathic medicine.
- Cardiovascular System. Students learn about heart failure, hypertension, valvular disease, congenital abnormalities, and more. The course also includes clinical application of microbiology, pathology, embryology, histology, and physiology.
- Respiratory System. This course builds on knowledge of human anatomy gained in year one as it pertains to processes such as pulmonary circulation, embryonic development of the lung, and functions of the lung, thorax, and airways. Students learn how to identify, diagnose, and treat disorders that can arise in the human respiratory system, such as structural disorders, immunologic disorders, and respiratory diseases.
- Immunology. This course covers the basic principles of immunology, cell defense mechanisms, processes of infection, and immunologic disorders. Students will learn how to conduct antigen and antibody-based tests to diagnose disorders.
Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Osteopathic Medicine
Enrolling in an accredited osteopathic medicine PhD program should give you expert knowledge of human anatomy, the musculoskeletal system, how each part of the body interacts, and what ailments can affect them. You may also gain extensive, hands-on training that will equip you with the skills needed to identify, diagnose, and treat each patient as a whole. The osteopathic approach to health care creates a partnership between doctor and patient, rather than simply diagnosing and treating symptoms, that can be rewarding and beneficial.
Many feel that the additional coursework required to become an osteopathic physician is unnecessary. These critics claim that the education and training needed to become a medical doctor is sufficient for providing excellent patient care. They claim that the extra time and effort that goes into the hands-on, manipulative, holistic approach to treatment taken by osteopathic physicians isn’t worth the time.
Application & Admission Requirements
The majority of osteopathic medical PhD degree programs require applicants to hold at least a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution prior to being admitted into the program. Most programs have specific prerequisite courses, such as biology, chemistry, and physics. Students are required to pass an entrance exam, such as the Medical College Admissions Test. You must submit an application that includes your academic achievements and professional health care experience, which will then be evaluated by an admissions committee. Based on all of this, if you are qualified for the program, you will then undergo at least one on-campus interview. Keep in mind that the application and admissions process may vary by institution.
Career Options & Job Market
After earning your PhD in osteopathic medicine from an accredited program you must complete a residency lasting three to eight years and pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination to obtain licensure, which is required in all states. . Osteopathic physicians are employed by healthcare organizations and hospitals, and many start a private practice either on their own or with other physicians. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment is expected to increase 24% through the year 2020. Physicians who provided primary care earned a median salary of $202,392 in May 2010, the BLS reports. Keep in mind that job availability and salary depend on several factors, including your location, employer, number of patients, and amount of experience.
Where to Find Information
- American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine The AACOM supports and assists medical schools offering osteopathic medicine programs and provides information that is beneficial for current and future students.
- American Osteopathic Association The AOA accredits osteopathic medical schools, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities, certifies DOs, has more than 100,000 members, consisting of osteopathic physicians and osteopathic medical students, and they provide a list of state osteopathic medical associations.
- American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians This is a 20,000-member association of osteopathic medical professionals, residents, and students specializing in family practice.
How to Get Funding
Accredited osteopathic medical schools are eligible to offer federal financial aid to their students. Most schools will also have unique aid options in forms of loans and scholarships. Many of these schools offer osteopathic medical student financial aid programs. For example, the University of New England offers College of Osteopathic Medicine University Scholarships that are donor sponsored and awarded based on factors such as financial need and academic merit.
- Federal Direct Stafford Loan.
The Federal Direct Stafford Loan program offers doctoral students a fixed interest rate of 6.8% on loans up to $20,500 per academic year while they pursue their degree.
- Federal Perkins Loan. The Federal Perkins Loan offers full-time students a fixed interest rate of 5% on loans averaging $3,500 per academic year.
- Campus-Based Aid. Campus-based programs vary by school and are managed by the financial aid office. These can include federal aid programs and financial aid options unique to the university.
- Prospective osteopathic students should check the prerequisite courses required for the Ph.D. program at several of the osteopathic medical schools to make sure they complete all necessary courses.
- Applicants for an accredited PhD program in osteopathic medicine are typically required to have professional and/or volunteer experience in a healthcare setting, so you should check the specific requirements for the schools you are considering.
- Licensure is needed in all fifty states, though some specific requirements may vary, so you need to check with your state’s medical board to learn what you need to do to become eligible for licensure.
- In addition to the knowledge and skills gained through your Ph.D. program, you will need to develop and hone personal qualities important to the success of an osteopathic physician, such as communication skills, empathy, patience, problem-solving skills, and attention to detail.