Why I Chose to Be a DO -- and Not an MD

Jay H. Shubrook, DO


October 06, 2020

As he updated the nation on President Trump's Health, White House physician Sean P. Conley, DO, brought new attention to the osteopathic degree. Many in the media questioned not just his statements, but also his qualifications to serve in this important role. But as those in the medical community are well aware, they could not be more wrong. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs) are similarly educated and identically licensed as our colleagues who hold a Doctor of Medicine degree, and as is the case for MDs, there are no restrictions on our practice.

Clearly, this scrutiny of a specific DO — and DOs writ large — strikes a personal chord for me and my more than 100,000 DO colleagues.

Jay H. Shubrook, DO

So why did I choose an osteopathic program rather than going the more traditional allopathic route?

Growing up, I loved to solve problems and help others. I was an athlete, and healthy behavior was important to me. In college, I majored in psychobiology with a focus on the biological basis of behavior. The interaction between emotions and biochemistry amazed me. Surrounded by premedical students, it seemed a natural extension of my life foci to join them on the path to medicine

Like most budding doctors, allopathic medical schools were the only ones I knew about. But as I began to do my homework before applying, I realized that these programs had a different focus than I was looking for. Impressive, certainly, but focused on specific diseases and treatments. It was not a fit for me. So after graduation, I found a health-related county job while I figured out my next step.

A year later, a college friend of mine reached out to me to say, "I think I found what you are looking for." She was attending an osteopathic medical school. These programs educated students as physicians who would earn unrestricted licenses, but the philosophy and parts of the training were different.

The basic tenets of osteopathic medicine teaching are:

  1. The body is a unit; the person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit.

  2. The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health maintenance.

  3. Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.

  4. Rational treatment is based on an understanding of the basic principles of body unity, self-regulation, and the interrelationship of structure and function.

DO students also learn osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a collection of hands-on treatments that address musculoskeletal and other problems, such as constipation, sinusitis, and bronchitis.

These principles rang true to me. I recognize that a sound mind and body is needed to be healthy. The body is almost perfect. By taking care of it and removing noxious stimuli (stress, poor nutrition, environmental waste), the body's functions are optimized. This made sense, as I had seen how body work helped me in sports. I was intrigued to learn ways that it could help in non–sport-related conditions.

I enjoyed my education. I loved learning OMT. I chose family medicine as a specialty because I wanted to care for patients of all ages. I enjoyed chronic disease management. Over time, my practice evolved to focus on diabetes. This allowed me to take a deep dive into physiology and biochemistry, and to help people learn how to live healthier lives by better managing their chronic condition. I loved the math, pattern analysis, and puzzle-solving that is required in diabetes management.

This focus allows me to utilize the osteopathic principles that were foundational to my education and training. The body is a unit. How we feel about ourselves affects how we treat ourselves and our bodies. When we take better care of our body, it works more efficiently and we feel better.

I found a great match in osteopathic medicine and the training to prepare me well for my roles as a family physician and diabetologist. I continue to carry these principles in all that I do.

Jay Shubrook, DO, is a family medicine physician and primary care diabetologist. After 10 years in primary care, he completed a Diabetes Management Fellowship and has focused on care of the patient with diabetes ever since. He directs an integrated comprehensive diabetes care center and conducts clinical research and is Professor at Touro University California College of Osteopathic Medicine.

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