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History of Osteopathic Medicine

The Origins and Evolution of Osteopathic Medicine

Osteopathic Medicine was established in 1874 by Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO. Still was the son of a Methodist minister who was also a physician. Even as a child, Andrew accompanied and worked alongside his father. From Virginia, the family moved west; both father and son ministered to and cared for Native Americans and settlers in the new frontier. 

The medicine of Dr. Still's time was largely based on treating symptoms of disease through the use of purgatories, blood-letting, opiates, alcohol, and mercury-based compounds. Dr. Still recognized the shortcomings of this conventional model, but it was not until some life-changing events occurred that he broke with the model and sought to establish a new one. In 1864, he lost three of his children to spinal meningitis, then another to pneumonia. In response to method of medical care that had failed to save his children, he worked to establish a new model. 

Initially, the new approach was one entirely averse to drug use. Dr. Still developed a philosophy and manipulation-treatment program based on the core belief of the body's inherent ability to heal itself. In his mind, the physician's role was to facilitate self-healing by restoring the relationship between structure and function as related to the human body, mind and spirit. As the practice has evolved, osteopathic medicine has recognized the importance of numerous pharmaceutical interventions, but the fundamental philosophy regarding the human body and the physician's role in facilitating healing has remained the same. 

The first school of Osteopathy opened November 1, 1892, in Missouri. New schools continued to emerge, and at present, there are 33 accredited colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. In the 2015-2016 academic year, 26,000 students — more than 20% of U.S. medical students — were enrolled in Schools of Osteopathic Medicine. A.T. Still's vision and philosophy regarding a trust in and care for persons continue to have resonance in the complex cultural milieu of the present.