How to Become an Osteopath

Updated on January 15, 2024


Becoming an osteopath takes significant time and dedication, but it can be an incredibly rewarding career path for those looking to help patients alleviate pain and improve mobility. To begin down the road of osteopathy, you must complete a degree program accredited by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), which oversees osteopathic medical education and training in the United States. These competitive programs take four years to complete, including two years of classroom training and two years of clinical rotations. After finishing an osteopathic medical program, aspiring DOs must then pass a licensing exam and complete a residency program before they can begin practicing as fully licensed physicians. With the proper commitment and passion, an osteopathic career aims to enhance patients’ function and quality of life using a whole-person approach.

What is an Osteopath?

An osteopath is a licensed healthcare professional who focuses on the health of the musculoskeletal system to treat various medical conditions. Osteopaths use a drug-free, hands-on approach to assess, diagnose, and treat problems with muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissue.

Osteopaths complete 4-5 years of intensive study at an accredited osteopathic medical school, where they receive extensive training in osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) techniques and standard medical education. OMT techniques involve gently moving muscles and joints to diagnose injury or illness and encourage the body’s natural tendency toward good health and self-healing. [According to the American Osteopathic Association, osteopaths are fully licensed physicians able to prescribe medications and perform surgery when necessary.

There are two types of osteopaths:

The main benefits of seeing an osteopath include relief from musculoskeletal pain, improved mobility, support for injury/surgery recovery, enhanced circulation, reduced stress and tension, and an overall sense of well-being. They use a holistic, patient-centered approach to promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

What do osteopaths do?

So, what exactly does an osteopath do? Osteopaths focus on the health of the whole person, using various techniques to treat problems with muscles, nerves, and joints. Some of their key responsibilities and tasks include:

In this way, osteopaths use an integrative approach to treat the person, not just the symptoms. Their versatility allows them to support many patient needs.

Educational Requirements for Becoming a

To become an osteopath takes significant education and training. At a minimum, you must complete a degree program from an accredited osteopathic medical school and pass the required exams to be licensed.

Undergraduate Education

While no specific major is required for osteopathic medical program admission, most complete a bachelor’s degree before enrollment; common majors include biology, chemistry, physics, pre-med, or health sciences. Coursework emphasizes sciences like anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, and microbiology. Gaining volunteer experience in healthcare during this time is also recommended. For example, I volunteered at local hospitals or shadowed DOs.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, common undergraduate prerequisites include:

Medical School

After completing undergraduate education, the next step is enrolling in an accredited osteopathic medical school, which generally takes four years. The first two years focus on classroom scientific study. Then, the last two years emphasize hands-on clinical rotations where students work under licensed physicians across specialties in hospitals and clinics. Some key courses in an osteopathic curriculum include:

According to the American Osteopathic Association, 35 accredited osteopathic medical schools are currently in the United States.

Licensing Exams

To practice as an osteopath, passing certain licensing exams is mandatory. The main assessments are the COMLEX Level 1, Level 2 CE, and Level 2 PE provided by the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners. These tests evaluate knowledge of basic science, clinical skills, and ability to practice osteopathic patient care.

Residency Training

The final requirement before becoming a practicing DO is completing an accredited residency program, usually 3-6 years, depending on specialization. Residencies provide advanced clinical training under the supervision of experienced physicians. Osteopaths’ Common residencies include family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN, and neuromusculoskeletal medicine.

Meeting all these education benchmarks allows osteopaths to become licensed and begin treating patients with their distinctive holistic approach. The process requires dedication but rewards those passionate about comprehensive care.

Postgraduate Training for Osteopaths

Postgraduate training is an essential part of becoming a licensed osteopath. Here are the key steps:

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Osteopath

Becoming an osteopath requires certain inherent skills and qualities that allow professionals to thrive in this field. An effective osteopath must have strong critical thinking and problem-solving abilities to evaluate patients, determine appropriate treatments, and develop customized care plans. Osteopaths need manual dexterity and physical stamina to perform various hands-on techniques like stretching, massage, and joint manipulation during appointments.

Communication skills are vital as osteopaths must explain proposed treatment methods and provide lifestyle advice to clients. They should have the empathy to understand patients’ concerns and the ability to put them at ease during examinations and procedures. Patience is also key when educating clients on proper postures and movements for injury prevention.

In addition to clinical capabilities, successful osteopaths are organized, detail-oriented, and have the physical and emotional resilience required in this demanding role. They must have up-to-date knowledge of advancements in research and technology to provide the most effective osteopathic manipulative treatment. Continuing education and specialization, such as through a Diploma in Osteopathic Manipulation or MSc in Osteopathy, allows them to expand their skillsets over their career.

With strong diagnostic skills, manual therapy capabilities, critical thinking, and a passion for improving clients’ health holistically, osteopaths can gain professional satisfaction through this meaningful vocation. Commitment to embodying key qualities like empathy and resilience also enables them to form meaningful relationships and make a difference in their patients’ well-being.

Osteopath Salary

Years of Experience Average Salary
0-5 years $140,000
5-10 years $198,000
10-20 years $230,000
20+ years $260,000

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Osteopaths have a variety of career opportunities available to them. Many choose to open their private practice, providing osteopathic manipulative treatment to patients. Private practice allows for autonomy, flexibility, and the potential for high earnings. New osteopaths may need to build a patient base when first starting a practice. Joining an existing practice can provide mentoring and an established clientele.

Osteopaths may also work in hospitals, clinics, sports teams, the military, and academic institutions. They often work alongside medical doctors as part of an integrated healthcare team, providing osteopathic treatment in addition to mainstream medicine. Multidisciplinary settings allow osteopaths to collaborate with other providers. Those interested in research can pursue academic medicine positions and studies exploring the mechanisms and efficacy of osteopathic techniques.

Leadership roles are available for experienced osteopaths. Some choose to open multiple clinic locations once established. Administrative positions in hospitals and health systems are another option. Osteopaths can also earn board certification in neuromusculoskeletal medicine or osteopathic manipulative medicine, allowing them to train future generations of osteopaths. Teaching requires excellent communication skills and a passion for education.

Continuing education is critical for career advancement. Osteopaths can take postgraduate training programs to subspecialize and incorporate new manual techniques. Staying current on the latest research through conferences and journals also helps osteopathic practitioners hone their approach. With further training and experience, career possibilities continue expanding. Many find the variety the field offers to be an excellent part of the rewarding profession.


In conclusion, becoming an osteopath requires significant education and training, but it can be a rewarding career helping patients through osteopathic manipulative medicine. As outlined above, you must complete a 4-year osteopathic medical program and pass national and state licensing exams to practice. Additionally, you may choose to complete a residency program and become board certified in a specialty like neurology or family medicine. With the aging population and increased interest in holistic care, demand for osteopaths is projected to grow over the next decade (Learn more from the American Osteopathic Association). If you are dedicated to whole-body patient care and enjoy diagnosing and treating illness and injury without drugs or surgery, a career as a DO may be right for you. You can succeed as a compassionate osteopath with hard work and commitment to continuing education.

Additional Resources

Resource Link Description
American Osteopathic Association
  • National organization representing osteopathic physicians in the U.S.
  • Details on osteopathic philosophy, education, and research
American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Information on osteopathic medical education and accreditation standards
  • List of accredited osteopathic medical schools
Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Occupational outlook for physicians and surgeons, including job prospects and pay
Osteopathic Medical Schools
  • Details on prerequisites, admissions statistics, and costs for various osteopathic medical programs


What is an osteopath?
An osteopath is a licensed health professional who focuses on treating musculoskeletal issues using manual ‘hands-on’ techniques to improve function in the body. Osteopaths have extensive medical training like physicians and can diagnose, treat, and prescribe medication.

What degree do you need to become an osteopath?
You need a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree to practice as an osteopath. This involves 4 years of medical school after completing a bachelor’s degree, typically in a scientific field such as biology or chemistry. Following medical school, there is also a mandatory internship year and residency program focusing on neuromusculoskeletal medicine.

How long does it take to become an osteopath?
The typical education path takes about 8-10 years after high school – 4 years for a bachelor’s degree, plus 4 years of osteopathic medical school, plus post-graduate training for 1-2 years. Some students pursue combined undergraduate school programs to accelerate the process.

What is the average salary for an osteopath?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for osteopathic physicians and surgeons is $208,000 per year or around $100 per hour. Those working in medical schools or academic centers tend to earn less, while those with private practice can earn more.

What certification or licenses are required?
After finishing medical training, osteopaths must pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) to apply for state licensure. They must receive and maintain a valid license to legally practice medicine in their state. Board certification in neuromusculoskeletal medicine or osteopathic manipulative medicine demonstrates competency in the field.

Do you need residency experience?
Yes, newly graduated D.O.s must complete an accredited residency program, usually 3-6 years, depending on the specialty. Many focus on areas like family medicine, internal medicine, or neuromusculoskeletal medicine. The hands-on patient experience in residency prepares osteopaths for independent practice.