Osteopathic Medicine

Osteopathic medicine (Osteopathy) is a complete system of health care emphasizing a whole person approach to medicine. There are currently 29 colleges of osteopathic medicine in the United States producing physicians with comprehensive medical and surgical training, and with special skills in musculoskeletal diagnosis and treatment, who make use of all modern diagnostic and treatment modalities, including unique manual treatment principles known as ‘osteopathic manipulative medicine’.

Osteopathic physicians (Osteopaths) understand how the body’s systems are interconnected. When appropriate, they focus additional attention toward assessment and treatment of the musculoskeletal system, which may reflect or influence the condition of other body systems.

D.O.s are complete physicians, fully trained and licensed to prescribe medication and to perform surgery. D.O.s and allopathic physicians (M.D.s) are the only two types of complete physicians. D.O.s practice in all branches of medicine and surgery, from psychiatry to obstetrics; from geriatrics to emergency medicine.

What is a D.O.?

The D.O. degree signifies ‘Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine’. Doctors of osteopathic medicine are physicians who have received comprehensive medical training just like M.D.s. Both D.O.s and M.D.s complete four years of basic medical education. After medical school, both D.O.s and M.D.s must choose to practice in a specialty area of medicine or surgery and complete a residency program. Additionally, all osteopathic physicians have received advanced training in musculoskeletal diagnosis and treatment including the use of manual treatment techniques known as ‘osteopathic manipulative medicine‘. All D.O.s practicing medicine in Canada have graduated from one of the 29 accredited osteopathic medical schools in the United States.

Something More

Osteopathic medicine focuses special attention on the biological mechanisms by which the musculoskeletal system, through the nervous and circulatory systems, interacts with all body systems in both health and disease.

This unique form of medical care was founded in 1874 by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still (M.D.). It was Dr. Still who developed this philosophy of medicine which recognizes the musculoskeletal system as a key element of health, and the body’s ability to heal itself.

Education and Licensure

To apply to osteopathic medical school, an individual must have a university degree, including the core requirements in chemistry, physics, biology, and biochemistry. One must also have completed and have high standing in the Medical College Admissions Test.

Osteopathic Education requires 4 years of full time medical education including comprehensive education in all the medical and surgical subspecialties. Included in this education is the unique osteopathic musculoskeletal training where osteopathic physicians learn detailed soft tissue palpation and musculoskeletal assessment, as well as the use of advanced osteopathic manipulative treatment techniques.

After graduating from osteopathic medical college, D.O.s serve a one-year hospital internship and must then pursue residency training in any of the many specialties (Internal Medicine, General Surgery, Orthopedics, Pediatrics, Emergency Medicine, Obstetrics, Radiology, Family Medicine, etc). A residency typically requires from 2 to 6 years of additional training.

To practice, all physicians (both D.O. and M.D.) must pass national medical licensure examinations, complete specialty certification examinations, and then become licensed by a provincial college of physicians and surgeons.

Commonly Asked Questions

Are osteopathic services covered by the B.C. Medical Services Plan?  Yes

Can a D.O. order lab tests and imaging studies?  Yes, and all of these services are covered by MSP.

Can a D.O. prescribe medicine?  Yes

Is a referral required? No. While referrals are not required, referrals from physicians for consultation are accepted.

Is a D.O. the same as a chiropractor? No. A D.O. has extensive medical and surgical training and is a complete physician employing all the tools of modern medicine. Osteopathic Physicians must be registered with the provincial College of Physicians and Surgeons. D.O.s have full access to all modern laboratory and imaging facilities, and are licensed to prescribe medication. D.O.s are also highly trained in osteopathic manipulative treatment techniques which help to alleviate pain, restore motion, and influence the body’s structure to help it function more efficiently.


Submitted by Dr. James Church, DO CCFP FCFP

Specific Techniques


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