This type of physician could fill the gap in rural communities

Many rural areas don't have enough primary care physicians, but osteopathic physicians, or DOs, could help fill the gap in rural care, NPR reported June 5.

Between 1990 to 2022, the number of DOs has more than quadrupled from fewer than 25,000 to over 110,000. Over half of DOs work in primary care compared to only one-third of MDs. Many osteopathic medical schools are located in rural states, and school leaders said their location and teaching method help explain why graduates tend to work in primary care in rural areas.

"The very nature of osteopathic training emphasizes primary care. That's kind of their thing," Michael Dill, director of workforce studies at the Association of American Medical Colleges, told NPR.

A KFF Health News analysis cited by NPR found that from 2008 to 2022 the number of MDs based outside of urban counties in Iowa dropped more than 19 percent. In the same period, the number of DOs practicing in those same areas increased by 29 percent. DO's make up more than a third of rural Iowa physicians, and that number is only expected to grow.

DOs and MDs go to separate medical schools; however, they have comparable training and both types are licensed to practice the full range of medicine. Only 10 percent of physicians hold a DO, but a recent study showed they have similar outcomes to MDs.

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