Osteopathic profession sees increase in number of doctors, medical students

Doctors talking
In the face of the country's physician shortage, a growing number of osteopathic doctors is good news. (Image: Getty/wmiami)

Osteopathic medicine is one of the fastest-growing healthcare professions in the country—with both an increase in the number of doctors practicing in the U.S. and in the number of medical students.

In fact, the number of osteopathic medical students has increased 85% in 10 years, according to the latest annual report from the American Osteopathic Association.

Over the past 30 years, the number of osteopathic physicians practicing in the U.S. has more than tripled, so there are now more than 108,000 D.O.s practicing here. More than half practice primary care, including family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics according to the report. That’s a 68% increase since 2007. Some 52% of those D.O.s are younger than 45, and 47% of those are female.

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At the 125th anniversary of the profession, there are now some 137,099 D.O.s and osteopathic medical students in the U.S. That’s good news given the country’s primary care physician shortage and helps underserved rural areas since schools offering osteopathic degrees tend to benefit those areas.

About one in four medical students attends a college of osteopathic medicine and enrollment has increased an average of 25% every five years, the report found. There were more than 6,000 newly graduated D.O.s in 2017, with more than 99% placed into residencies this year. There are currently 20,482 D.O.s in residency training.

“Regardless of the medical specialty they choose, osteopathic physicians are trained to partner with patients to restore and maintain optimum health,” said Adrienne White-Faines, the group’s CEO, in an announcement.  

“This ‘whole-person philosophy’ ... resonates with patients and physicians alike. It is why more and more medical student applicants are choosing colleges of osteopathic medicine for their medical training.”

The most common specialties for D.O.s are emergency medicine, anesthesiology, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery and psychiatry, the report said.

The growth in the profession follows the development of new osteopathic medical schools, which now total 34 schools operating in 49 sites. Additional schools and location are expected to open in the next few years, the group said.

The AOA is working with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Educationand is halfway through a five-year transition to a single system for residency training.

At the end of the five-year transition, all new physicians will be eligible to apply for osteopathic and non-osteopathic residencies in every specialty. Previously, physicians with the M.D. degree could not obtain osteopathic training. The establishment of a single accreditation system for all residency programs in 2020 will ensure M.D.s and D.O.s meet identical training standards.

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