Difference Between the Letters Behind Doctors' Names

There's a D.O. behind Neil Propst's name, but not all of his patients realize that.

Neil Propst, D.O., says, "Especially, on correspondence that I get, a lot of people just assume that I'm an M.D. That's really common; people just don't think to look."

He says doctors of osteopathy take a more holistic approach to medicine, treating the patient instead of just treating the disease.

A good doctor of any kind will do both, but a D.O. receives extra training in what's called osteopathic manipulative treatment. They perform soft tissue massage and other body manipulations that improve circulation, lymphatic drainage and other systems helping the body heal itself.

Dr. Propst explains, "If a person comes in with a heart attack, I certainly don't think you adjust their back and they get better. I think there is a definite time and place for it. A lot of people come in with chronic back or neck pain - pregnant women especially. There's some manipulations you can do that can kind of help relieve their pain for a time."

Just like M.D.s, D.O.s go to college, medical school and complete a residency program. Then, they both must pass comparable state licensing exams.

As far as medical doctors are concerned, William Blanke, M.D., says, "A D.O., to me, is really not different from a M.D. to be perfectly honest. If anything, I think the D.O. has sometimes a little edge on things - especially in family practice because the D.O.s are more specifically trained. I believe [they] have more experience working the musculoskeletal system."

Unfortunately, Dr. Propst says he doesn't get to do the body manipulations on patients as much as he'd like. Time just doesn't allow it, and that's a problem shared by doctors of every kind.

There are nearly 50,000 D.O.s in the U.S.