The History of Osteopathic Medicine
128 Years & Counting: 1892-2020

Source: American Osteopathic Association (AOA)

In 1892, Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO, started the first osteopathic medical school. The first class of the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri, pictured here circa 1893 with Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO.,

What's the Story?

Osteopathic medicine is a unique form of American medical care that was developed in 1874 by frontier doctor Andrew Taylor Still. Dr. Still was dissatisfied with the effectiveness of 19th century medicine. He believed that many of the medications of his day were useless or even harmful. Dr. Still was one of the first in his time to study the attributes of good health so that he could better understand the process of disease.

In response Dr. Still founded a philosophy of medicine based on ideas that date back to Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. The philosophy focuses on the unity of all body parts. He identified the musculoskeletal system as a key element of health. He recognized the body’s ability to heal itself and stressed preventive medicine, eating properly and keeping fit.

Dr. Still pioneered the concept of “wellness” 100 years ago. In today’s terms, personal health risks – such as smoking, high blood pressure, excessive cholesterol levels, stress and other lifestyle factors – are evaluated for each individual. In coordination with appropriate medical treatment, the osteopathic physicians act as a teacher to help patients take more responsibility for their own well-being and change unhealthy patterns.

Sports medicine is also a natural outgrowth of osteopathic practice, because of its focus on the musculoskeletal system, osteopathic manipulative treatment, diet, exercise and fitness. Many professional sports team physicians, Olympic physicians and personal sports medicine physicians are D.O.’s.


What's It Like Today?

Just as Dr. Still pioneered osteopathic medicine on the Missouri frontier in 1874, today osteopathic physicians serve as modern day medical pioneers. They continue the tradition of bringing health care to areas of greatest need:

  • Over half of all osteopathic physicians practice in primary care areas, such as pediatrics, general practice obstetrics/gynecology and internal medicine.

  • Many D.O.’s fill a critical need for family doctors by practicing in small towns and rural areas.

Today osteopathic physicians continue to be on the cutting edge of modern medicine. D.O.’s are able to combine today’s awesome medical technology with the tools of their ears to listen carefully to their patients; their eyes to see their patients as whole persons; and their hands, to diagnose and treat injury and illness. 

Read the 2023 Osteopathic Medical Profession (OMP) Report for updated statistics on the growth and expansion of osteopathic medicine.

By the American Osteopathic Association's (AOA) count, there are more than 121,000 DOs in the U.S., with a combined total of more than 151,300 osteopathic medical students and physicians. This means that the profession has grown 63% in the past decade and nearly 300% over the past three decades.


Maine’s Long History of Osteopathic Medicine

For more information about osteopathic medical education in Maine, visit the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine website at:

Documentary film produced in 2004 by the New England Osteopathic Heritage Center along with the University of New England Media Services. The film explores the history of Osteopathic Medicine in New England through interviews with doctors, nurses, family members and patients, as well as archival materials.



View an Online Interactive Video "Hand Over Hand"

Created by the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine Heritage Center to explore the nature, history and future of Osteopathic Medicine.