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Guide to Defining Different Medical Degrees

While everyone knows that a medical degree is impressive, some are not quite sure exactly how impressed we should be when we simply see the letters attached to someone’s name.

While “DO,” “MD,” and “FM,” certainly mean something and offer a lot of credentials to one’s capabilities, it’s easy to get confused as to what capabilities those are precisely. So here is your friendly little guide to understanding DO, MD, FM, Internal Medicine, and FACP.

What do Different Doctors DO?

DO: Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine

This is a fully trained and licensed doctor who has attended and graduated from a United States osteopathic medical school (1). They are physicians who practice in all areas of medicine, emphasizing a whole-person approach to treatment, care, and health (2). They don’t just look at symptoms but regard the body as an integrated whole. They are specifically trained to help their patients get healthy and remain healthy. They put a big stress on prevention of injury by educating patients on the effects that lifestyle and environment can have on their health. They strive to help their patients to work beyond being symptom-free, but to become and remain healthy in mind, body, and spirit (2). Most DOs are in family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, OB-GYN and general surgery, and tend to spend a lot of time with their patients. The education of a DO and an MD is very similar. DOs have extra focus on the skeletal system and how the body interacts with different diseases. Like MDs, DOs are licensed to practice in all 50 states.

MD: Doctor of Medicine

This is a doctor who has attended and graduated from a conventional (allopathic) medical school (1). MDs are often confused with DOs. But while a DO practices osteopathic medicine,  MDs practice allopathic medicine, which is the classical form of medicine that focuses on the diagnoses and treatment of human disease (3).  While MDs also treat the entire body, they have a higher focus on disease symptoms using remedies such as drugs or surgery. While many MDs are also in family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, OB-GYN and general surgery like DOs, they are more like to  choose other specialties, including emergency medicine, orthopedic surgery, gastroenterology, neurology, and more. As both MDs and DOs are highly trained physicians, from the patient perspective, it should not make much if any difference whether seeing a DO or and MD. (9)

FM: Family Medicine (formerly FP: Family Practice)

These doctors tend to be more personal, able to build relationships with patients much easier. Family physicians can treat patients in a wide variety of settings and situations (4). According to the American College of Physicians, “family medicine is built around a social unit (the family) as opposed to either a specific patient population (i.e. adults, children, or women), organ system (i.e., otolaryngology or urology), or nature of intervention (i.e., surgery)”(5). They work with both adults and children. (7)

Internal Medicine

Internal medicine doctors are primary care physicians. They provide non-surgical medicine care. They work with adult patients only. While family practitioners are internal medicine doctors and pediatricians at once, internists only work with adults. Adult patients looking for a primary care doctor can choose an internal medicine or a family doctor alike. (5, 7)

FACP

These letters after your doctor’s name mean that he or she is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians (6). The American College of Physicians is the largest society of internists in the world. ACP fellows are a dedicated group of doctors based on their commitment to medical practice, research, or teaching. This distinction basically means that the doctor cares to deliver high-quality health care. (8)

Conclusion

Random letters alluding to degrees, practices, or groups they are members of, it’s okay to be confused. But the more you know about what these letters mean, the better equipped you are to select the physician that best suits your or your family’s needs!

References

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/osteopathic-medicine/faq-20058168
  2. https://osteopathic.org/what-is-osteopathic-medicine/what-is-a-do/
  3. https://medicalschoolhq.net/md-vs-do-what-are-the-differences-and-similarities/
  4. https://www.aafp.org/medical-school-residency/choosing-fm/physician-qas/why-become-a-family-physician.html
  5. https://www.acponline.org/about-acp/about-internal-medicine/career-paths/medical-student-career-path/internal-medicine-vs-family-medicine
  6. https://www.acponline.org/system/files/documents/membership/fellowship/welcome/patient_information.pdf
  7. https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/the-difference-between-family-medicine-and-internal-medicine
  8. https://www.acponline.org/system/files/documents/membership/fellowship/welcome/patient_information.pdf
  9. family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, OB-GYN and general surgery
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