“DOOM” in changing osteopathic medicine initials

It is amazing what a title does for a brand, a movie or even this article.  A title gives a first impression and, sometimes, simple information at a first glace.

For a professional, a title has great significance. Simple letters like, “M”, “J”, “O” and “D” combine to make initials such as, “JD” and “MD”, which sit next to a person’s name, defining their profession and schooling. The letters “DO”, meaning Doctor of Osteopathy, have undergone some of the most heated debate.

This debate is primarily caused by some osteopathic physician’s concerns that the letters “DO” are not as recognizable as the counterpart allopathic degree, M.D. The arguments on both sides, against changing the initials and for changing the initials, extends through the history of osteopathic medicine, all the way back to its founder, A.T. Still in 1874.

Still pioneered a new philosophy of practicing medicine with the underlying doctrine that the human body has the innate tendency to heal itself.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, “Osteopathic medicine provides all of the benefits of modern medicine including prescription drugs, surgery, and the use of technology to diagnose disease and evaluate injury. It also offers the added benefit of hands-on diagnosis and treatment through a system of therapy known as osteopathic manipulative medicine.”

Osteopathic medicine emphasizes a patient-centered approach by focusing on disease prevention, a healthy lifestyle and examining all parts of the body to diagnose an injury. Osteopathic physicians today have full practicing rights in all fifty states and practice in every specialty.

Since 11 percent of physicians in the U.S. are D.O.s, some physicians feel that the initials should be changed to incorporate an “M”, which would more closely resemble the allopathic medical doctor degree of M.D. These physicians worry that potential patients who are unfamiliar with the DO title will confuse an osteopathic doctor with a doctor of orthodontics or optometry.

However, I believe that the Doctor of Osteopathy initials should not be changed, for several reasons.

Firstly, the professional initials that follow a doctor’s name are practically insignificant to a potential patient. Unlike most services in the U.S., customers seeking a doctor do not search the Yellow Pages or walk down the street and “shop” for a medical professional. In most cases, people in need of a specialty doctor, such as dermatologists and cardiologist, are given a referral to a specialist by their primary care provider. In other cases, patients who belong to larger healthcare establishments, like Kaiser, will be referred to a specialty doctor within that organization. Patients rarely choose their own doctors and therefore, a doctor’s degree type, D.O. or M.D., is insignificant.

But when patients do get the chance to choose their physician, they make their decision based on reviews they have heard from past patients. From my own clinic observations, the “word of mouth” approach to getting more patients is more common and trusted than medical care TV commercials and flyers. A patient who refers a friend to a doctor helps increase a physician’s business in the most honest way possible; the better the doctor, the more patients he or she receives.

Ajay S. Gill, first year medical student at NSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine (NSUCOM), agrees and said, “One is not judged by the letters after your name. One is judged by performance, actions, and impact.”

Students at NSUs College of Osteopathic Medicine look at the debate through the unique way that they are being taught. Osteopathic doctors receive the same training and certification requirements as M.D.s, but they take additional classes in OMT, Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment. OMT instills the non-invasive hallmark of osteopathic medicine to healing the body by massaging and stretching it back to its natural structure. Most students feel that the unique D.O. initials should not be changed to camouflage with the M.D. initials because the educational backgrounds differ for each degree.

Ricky Patel, a first year medical student at NSUCOM and vice president of NSUCOM’s Student Government Association said, “If all medical schools, both allopathic and osteopathic, were to incorporate OMT and its philosophy into teaching, I see nothing wrong with merging the professions and sharing one degree. However, if that is not the case, osteopathic medicine, in my opinion, must remain distinct and its distinct title must be preserved.”

Additionally, as many physicians and medical students have said on blogs and online forums —such as the Student Doctor Network, changing the professional title would cause further confusion.  Some have suggested the title to change to “DOM”, “MD, DO” and even “DOOM.”  Regardless, physicians will still have to explain that the “O” in their title stands for osteopathy. Putting up a façade by changing the initials does not make the osteopathic medicine degree any more recognizable.

Indeed, to make the osteopathic degree more recognizable, the American Osteopathic Association has made efforts to educate the public on the patient-centered approach Osteopathic physicians practice. However, it is much more powerful and enduring to build the reputation of osteopathy by creating a strong and respected osteopathic physician workforce over time, rather than creating infomercials, pamphlets and print commercials.

Already in America, osteopathic education has rapidly increased with the introduction of new osteopathic medical schools and eager students. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, by 2015, more than 5,300 osteopathic physicians will graduate from the nation’s osteopathic medical schools each year. As patients in America continue to receive treatment from great osteopathic doctors, the D.O. degree will gain more recognition. Patience is key.

Moreover, changing the initials would impede the incredible growth in the osteopathic medicine. Instead, a change in the degree title could tarnish the image of osteopathic medicine by making D.O.s look ashamed of their degree. So much work has been done to award the same practicing rights to D.O.s as M.D.s, while still maintaining the integrity of the successful osteopathic philosophy.  An attempt to make the D.O. degree look like the more common and larger counterpart degree would deface the history and preserved effort of past osteopathic physicians.

Even if a change in the initials was passed, an exorbitant amount of time, money and effort would be spent in changing all official documents, getting past D.O.s to revise their degree certificates and reprinting thousands of business cards.

The most surefire, enduring and impactful way to bring more recognition to the osteopathic degree and all it has to offer can only be achieved in the most honest way possible: deliver great osteopathic healthcare and satisfied patients will, in turn, deliver great recommendations and reviews.

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