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What is Osteopathic Medicine?


Dr. Andrew Taylor Still,
Founder of Osteopathic Medicine
Osteopathic physicians are licensed in every state to practice the full scope of medicine and surgery. The practice of osteopathic medicine includes using the most current scientific knowledge to promote health and prevention and to diagnose and treat patients with disease. Osteopathic physicians prescribe medications, perform surgery, and use osteopathic manipulative medicine as a tool to diagnose and treat patients. The philosophy of osteopathic medicine originated from the teachings of Virginian Andrew Taylor Still over 100 years ago and is based on the beliefs that, given the optimum conditions, the human body has the amazing ability to heal, that the structure of the human body is directly related to the function, and that the health of the individual is related to the body, mind, and spirit.

The Core Values of Osteopathic Medicine

The importance of maintaining optimal conditions for good health has come to the forefront of recognition by all physicians in recent years through prevention and health maintenance measures. As all medicine has evolved through the years, so has the practice of osteopathic medicine, yet many of the original values of osteopathic medicine are found within our curriculum. These osteopathic values include medicine focused on the patient rather than the disease and the importance of human touch in diagnosing and treating the patient. Osteopathic physicians (DOs) and allopathic physicians (MDs) are the only two types of physicians who are fully trained and licensed to practice the full scope of medicine, which includes prescribing medications and performing surgery. While osteopathic physicians enter every specialty, the osteopathic curriculum at VCOM prepares the student to be a primary care physician first. This training prepares the student for primary care and provides a strong foundation for any student who may choose a specialty. To meet the mission of VCOM, we intend to prepare the majority of our graduates to enter primary care.

More than 70,000 osteopathic physicians are expected to be practicing in the United States when those who presently are in training have completed their studies. 60% of all osteopathic physicians enter primary care. Osteopathic physicians currently care for more than 35 million Americans. Osteopathic physicians also are more likely to practice in small communities and rural areas. Twenty-six other osteopathic medical schools and two branch campuses that enroll more than 8,000 students are located within the United States. The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) recognizes only those schools that provide four years of training leading to the full scope of the practice of medicine. Each school is accredited by the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) of the AOA. COCA is the only accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for predoctoral osteopathic medical education. In addition to the COCA accreditation, VCOM as other Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine must receive approval from their state boards for education.

The Healing Power of Osteopathic Medicine

The creation of an osteopathic physician goes beyond sharpening the mind and the heart of a healer – it involves instruction in a compassionate and knowledgeable touch. The curriculum in our Principles of Primary Care course integrates the osteopathic musculoskeletal exam within the physical diagnosis course to assure that every student possesses the skills to fully evaluate each patient with visual, auditory, and palpatory skill. In addition to the core curriculum found in all medical schools, VCOM students benefit from hundreds of additional hours of education in the practice unique to the osteopathic profession – osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM).

The OMM training gives VCOM students the education and practical experience to evaluate and treat patients with safe and effective osteopathic manipulative techniques for a variety of medical conditions including but not limited to: low back pain, joint pain, neck pain, headaches, post-surgical ileus, gastrointestinal conditions, and respiratory problems. To achieve this education, VCOM utilizes the talents of 13 faculty physician educators trained and experienced in osteopathic manipulation, with a wide variety of specialties including: family medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics, internal medicine, sports medicine and neuromusculoskeletal medicine. This large number of board-certified physicians provides VCOM with a student-to-professor ratio of 8 to 1. This does not include the senior VCOM students on rotations who return to teach their junior colleagues. Senior students in their clinical years of training (years 3 and 4) refine their skills through monthly conferences/labs detailing advanced concepts and techniques, as well as through their clinical training on rotations.

At the conclusion of their second and third years of training, students undergo comprehensive and rigorous evaluation in an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). This testing evaluates not only their clinical training in the office assessment and management of patients, but also their abilities to interpret laboratory results, medical tests (such as X-rays, MRIs and EKGs), and their practical skills such as performing physical examinations, suturing, casting/splinting, and performing OMM. 

Such training has culminated in a reputation for VCOM students as not only being willing to, but capable of, delivering high-quality OMM to their patients. VCOM students provide OMM treatments at national conferences and are sought for demonstrations by students and physicians at other osteopathic colleges. Those not familiar with such techniques have expressed in learning them after encounters with VCOM students. This has resulted in an explosion of interest by patients in the region and across the world. Quite a few of the health care professionals in this region now recognize the brilliant orange and maroon VCOM badge on the white coat of our students as a symbol of excellence in osteopathic manipulative and clinical medicine. As evidence of this, VCOM students have won two national awards from the Undergraduate American Association of Osteopathy (UAAO).

National Organizations

American Academy of Osteopathy (AAO)

American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM)

American Osteopathic Association (AOA)

American Osteopathic Foundation (AOF)

American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians (ACOEP)

American College of Ostepathic Family Physicians (ACOFP)

State Organizations

Alabama Osteopathic Medical Association (ALOMA)

North Carolina Osteopathic Medical Association (NCOMA)

South Carolina Osteopathic Medical Society (SCOMS)

Virginia Osteopathic Medical Association (VOMA)