Orthopedists -- also called orthopedic surgeons -- and osteopaths are both physicians. Both study similar subjects such as anatomy, physiology, human biology and pharmacology. Orthopedics is a surgical specialty, while osteopathy is a system of health care. One way in which the two professions are linked is the musculoskeletal system.
Orthopedic training focuses on teaching students to perform surgery on the musculoskeletal system and manage diseases and injuries of bones and joints. Osteopathic schools emphasize primary care or family medicine and also include 300 to 500 hours of training in hands-on manual treatments and the musculoskeletal system, according to Medline Plus. After medical school, orthopedists and osteopaths go on to a residency of two to three years, and may also go through an extended period of training called a fellowship. Both must be licensed to practice medicine and may choose to become board-certified.
Orthopedists are surgeons who deal with bones, joints, tendons, muscles and ligaments – all the components of the musculoskeletal system. An orthopedist might surgically repair a fractured hip, replace a damaged knee with an artificial joint or perform spinal surgery. Orthopedists may also provide nonsurgical treatment for problems such as low back pain or treat a sprain with a brace, physical therapy and medicine. Orthopedists may specialize in treatment of the spine, extremities or certain procedures such as joint replacements.
Osteopathy was developed by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, a Civil War physician. Still believed that the musculoskeletal system was integral to the body’s health, and that all body systems were interrelated. Osteopathic medicine is based on a philosophy that combines current medical practice with the needs of the patient. Osteopaths should take a whole-person approach and consider both the physical and mental needs of their patients. Although an osteopath may specialize in any area, osteopaths are often found in the areas of internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and primary care.
Osteopaths believe that illness and physical trauma affect the body’s ability to move and the flow of fluids within the tissues as well as the structure and texture of the tissue. They use a technique called osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT, to treat illness and injury. In addition, osteopaths prescribe medicine and other conventional treatments. Osteopaths perform different tasks depending on their specialty. Osteopaths in family practice and obstetrics deliver babies, while pediatric osteopaths provide well-child care and school physicals.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track data on orthopedists, but includes them in the category of surgeons, who earned average annual salaries of $231,550 in 2011. Osteopathic physician salaries will depend on their specialty. Family and general practitioners earned $177,330 in 2011, according to the BLS. Internists earned $189,210 and pediatricians earned average annual salaries of $168,650. Obstetricians and gynecologists, who might also be osteopathic physicians, earned $218,610 in 2011, according to the BLS.
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