Letters to the Editor  |   March 2011
Current and Distinctive Terminology: Osteopath and Physician
Author Affiliations
  • Stevan A. Walkowski, DO
    Physician and Osteopath, Assistant Professor, Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Athens
Article Information
Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment / Being a DO
Letters to the Editor   |   March 2011
Current and Distinctive Terminology: Osteopath and Physician
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, March 2011, Vol. 111, 141-142. doi:
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, March 2011, Vol. 111, 141-142. doi:
To the Editor:  
I read with great interest the letters of Tyler C. Cymet, DO,1 and Thomas Wesley Allen, DO, MPH,2 in the December 2010 JAOA—The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association regarding the use of language in describing physicians who are trained in the lineage of Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO. Dr Allen's2 assertion that osteopathy is a term that has been relegated to “historical, sentimental, and informal” purposes is well-taken and well-founded—as is Dr Cymet's1 view that we need to agree on terminology. For these reasons, I propose a solution that might speak to both positions and, at the same time, create a professional environment that is perhaps more honest than the environment of the past 50 years. 
I propose that we eliminate the word osteopathic as an adjective to describe medicine altogether, unless it is used in direct reference to the application of the mechanical principles first described by Dr Still in the late 19th century and developed since then. Let all those who now have a DO degree be regarded simply as physicians, reflecting the fact that we have worked hard for the parity we have gained with the allopathic medical profession. This lack of distinction seems appropriate and will, no doubt, be welcomed by many DOs. The relative lack of practice by most DOs of anything resembling osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) is further reason to embrace the less descriptive terms of medicine and physician. 
Although this change in terminology may create some entrepreneurial and political lockjaw surrounding board examinations, accreditation, and subsequent specialty college credentialing, I believe the honesty of such lack of descriptors more accurately portrays the majority of today's osteopathic physicians. It is a well-documented reality that the greatest difference between osteopathic physicians and allopathic physicians—OMT—is rarely practiced by most DOs.3 We may work to split hairs and beat our chests about the “holistic approach” or “bedside manner” that the osteopathic philosophy has afforded us, but facts belie our promises. We have no monopoly on holistic care. Pleasant bedside manner is not unique to DOs. It is OMT that is supposed to set us apart from allopathic physicians. 
I further propose that we retain the descriptors of osteopathy and osteopath for those of us who actually practice the art and science of OMT that we were given by our teachers. To that end, a practitioner can choose to be a physician or a physician and osteopath. Not only would this distinction allow us to define more clearly what we do, but it would also honor the terms established by Dr Still more than 100 years ago—terms that still accurately describe the intention of the manual treatment model of our profession, regardless of the model we actually follow. 
Such use of osteopathy and osteopath would also reduce confusion on the part of the public. No longer would I hear the story of how a patient sought the help of an osteopathic physician only to find out that the DO did not use OMT in his or her practice. 
Eliminating the descriptor osteopathic would embrace the differences that we all have in our practices, and it would mean that physicians no longer have to identify themselves as something that they are not. Allowing the descriptor osteopath would embrace our heritage and our uniqueness, and it would clearly identify us as providing a service that is increasingly rare, that is increasingly important, and that provides increasingly added value to patient care. 
Cymet TC. It means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less [letter]. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2010;110(12):745-746.
Allen TW. Osteopathic medical terminology—redux [letter]. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2010;110(12):743-744.
Johnson SM, Kurtz ME. Diminished use of osteopathic manipulative treatment and its impact on the uniqueness of the osteopathic profession. Acad Med. 2001;76(8):821-828.