Education and Training: College, osteopathic medical college, and specialized training
Salary: Median—$156,010 per year
Employment Outlook: Very good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Osteopathic physicians practice a system of health care known as osteopathy, which is based on the idea that health is closely related to the structure of the body. They specialize in a treatment called manipulative therapy in which they use their hands to move parts of the patient's body, especially the muscles and bones, into the proper positions. This therapy continues until the patient's body systems are brought back to their correct relationship.
Osteopathic physicians use the same methods that medical doctors use to diagnose and treat illness and injury. They prescribe medicines, perform surgery, and recommend diets and other kinds of therapy. More than forty-five percent of all osteopathic physicians are general practitioners or family doctors. As with medical doctors, osteopaths have office practices and work in hospitals. About fifteen percent of all osteopathic physicians are specialists in such fields as surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, neurology, and internal medicine. A small number of osteopathic physicians have salaried positions in osteopathic hospitals and colleges, private industry, and government agencies.
Education and Training Requirements
A few students start osteopathic college after only three years at preprofessional colleges, but most students earn bachelor's degrees first. The four-year programs at osteopathic colleges are similar to the training at other medical schools. However, osteopathy puts more emphasis on anatomy and the relationship between the structure of the body and its functions. Nearly all new graduates of osteopathic colleges spend a year as interns in osteopathic hospitals before residencies of two to six years of specialized training.
Osteopathic physicians must be licensed. Requirements vary, but in all states osteopathic physicians must graduate from accredited osteopathic colleges, pass licensing examinations, and complete one to seven years of graduate medical education.
Getting the Job
Nearly all osteopathic physicians go into private practice. Many start as assistants in the offices of established osteopathic physicians. Others take jobs on the staffs of osteopathic hospitals. Professional associations and colleges or hospitals of osteopathy can provide information about developing private practices or finding salaried positions.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Most osteopathic physicians advance by building their practices. Some become specialists. A small number become teachers, researchers, or administrators. Others write or edit scientific books or journals.
The federal government and most states grant osteopathic physicians the same privileges as medical doctors. Some osteopathic physicians practice with medical doctors. Most set up their practices in areas where there are osteopathic hospitals or clinics.
Employment of both medical and osteopathic physicians and surgeons is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2014 because all health-care industries are expanding. The growing and aging population should drive overall growth in the number of physicians. New technologies permit more tests and more procedures, allowing physicians to treat more conditions. General and primary care practitioners should have the best prospects; competition may be stiff for specialists because of the limits set by managed health care organizations.
Most osteopathic physicians have their own practices and are able to set their own working conditions. Many work more than fifty hours per week. Some of this time is spent studying the latest advances in the field. Family doctors usually work longer and more irregular hours than specialists.
Osteopathic physicians need good health, stamina, self-discipline, and business skills.
Where to Go for More Information
American Academy of Osteopathy
3500 DePauw Blvd., Ste. 1080
Indianapolis, IN 46268
American Osteopathic Association
142 E. Ontario St.
Chicago, IL 60611
Earnings and Benefits
Osteopathic physicians earn salaries comparable to medical doctors in general practice. In 2004 the median salary of osteopathic physicians in family practice was $156,010 per year. Osteopathic physicians in private practice must provide their own benefits, such as health insurance and pensions.