Health Vocabulary: MD vs. DO vs. NP


Both doctors of medicine (M.D.) and doctors of osteopathy (D.O.) are fully trained and licensed physicians. Their education and certification are very similar. The main difference lies in the treatment philosophy: D.O.’s may take a more holistic approach and focus on helping the body heal itself, rather than healing the body with drugs or procedures.

Nurse practitioners (N.P.) are also licensed clinical practitioners who can diagnose and treat conditions, prescribe medications, and manage patient wellness.

A doctor of medicine (M.D.) is trained in a conventional, or allopathic, medical school. Allopathic medicine treats symptoms and diseases with medications, radiation, or surgery, and is what people usually mean when they say “Western medicine.”

A doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) trains at an osteopathic medical school emphasizing a whole-person approach to caring for patients. They are specially trained in the musculoskeletal system and often use manual medicine techniques (like therapeutic massage or spinal manipulation) as well as traditional medicine.

Nurse practitioners (N.P.) tend to emphasize disease prevention and health management as well as treating symptoms. All N.P.’s can diagnose, treat, and prescribe medicine, but the state you live in determines whether they need a doctor’s supervision to do so. Many states allow N.P.’s to practice independently. Not sure if your state is one of them? Check this handy map!

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