An osteopathic physician, also referred to simply as an osteopath, practices the form of medicine known as osteopathy, which holds that there is a strong connection between the functioning of the body and the well-being of the mind. In general, an osteopath would be concerned with aligning the body properly and redressing structural difficulties, thereby freeing the body of other problems that may be seemingly unrelated. For example, an osteopath would commonly realign a patients’ bones when they seem to have been misaligned in order to improve the circulation of blood and “energy” throughout the body.
Becoming an osteopath begins with getting a bachelor’s degree and then completing a four-year graduate program, during which the osteopathic student takes the same basic classes that a medical student must take. Osteopathic physicians have their own licensing test, called the COMLEX, but are eligible to take the MD licensing test, USMLE, as well. Osteopathic physicians can, and frequently do, compete for and are awarded residency programs in every medical specialty, and go on to practice accordingly.
What, then, sets osteopathic physicians apart? In addition to the basic classes that every aspiring physician must successfully complete during their graduate education, osteopathic physicians must also complete 200+ hours of class and clinical work that involves Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine, or OMM. This education includes treatments that fall under chiropractic therapy, but that is only a small portion. OMM attempts to treat many medical afflictions in addition to spinal dysfunctions, including but not limited to: asthma, arrhythmias, migraines, lymphatic disruptions, soft-tissue injuries, and so forth.
Osteopathic physicians earn on average between $110,000 – $150,000 a year — which, while quite above average, is lower than what most comparable physicians in the medical field make. Still, osteopathy can be quite attractive, especially for those who think that mainstream medicine’s emphasis on drugs and surgery is overplayed and who like osteopathy’s more holistic philosophy of health and healing.