A career in osteopathy

Studying osteopathy can put you on the right path to a highly satisfying and rewarding career.

Osteopathy is an holistic system of treatment for a wide range of conditions. It is based on the principle that structure governs function and that good health is dependent upon the balanced interrelation of anatomical and physiological structure.

Osteopathic care involves the identification of the underlying causes of the presenting complaint, treatment using soft-tissue techniques and gentle physical manipulation, and appropriate self-care advice to help improve function and prevent re-occurrence. Osteopathy therefore can help both acute and long-standing chronic ailments.

A career in osteopathy

“The rewards of practising as an osteopath are many: a highly satisfying professional life; excellent financial rewards; and a chance to be self-employed within a growing healthcare industry”

What is the history of osteopathy?Osteopathy was developed in the latter part of the 19th century by a Missouri doctor named Andrew Taylor Still. After the American Civil War and the death of three of his children from meningitis, A.T. Still became convinced that there was a direct link between the body’s musculo-skeletal system and good health.

He also believed that conventional physicians treated people with excessive medication. Devoting his life to finding a way to better treat disease with these ideas in mind, he developed the basic philosophies of what came to be known as osteopathy.

By the 1890s he had set up a training college and his ideas began to spread. The first osteopaths arrived in the UK in the early 1900s, and by the interwar period the first British training colleges were established. During the 1990s, as osteopathy gained mainstream acceptance and patient numbers soared, the first British degrees were approved in collaboration with universities.

In 1993, the UK government passed the Osteopaths Act, which introduced a framework for professional registration and quality-assuring the increasingly popular undergraduate degrees. In this decade, the first master’s courses have been developed, demonstrating osteopathy’s strong commitment to the highest standards of scientific and clinical research.

How does one train to become an osteopath?Osteopathic education has developed enormously in recent years. Training colleges now routinely offer degrees which have been approved through collaboration with a university. These courses are usually a mix of comprehensive practical and clinical training as an osteopath, with the conventional scientific and physiological studies that you would associate with a medical degree. The most innovative colleges are now introducing master’s degrees so that postgraduates can better undertake research and develop their clinical expertise.

Most good degree courses would expect three science A Levels or the equivalent for entry although, as with elsewhere in higher education, other routes to study, especially for mature students, are increasingly considered. A UK osteopathic degree is usually structured on a four-year full-time or five-year part-time basis.

The rewards of practising as an osteopath are many: a highly satisfying professional life; excellent financial rewards; and a chance to be self-employed within a growing healthcare industry. Fully qualified osteopaths can also find employment in university-level teaching, corporate consultancy, work with animals and 
many other fields.

Written by Dr Ian Drysdale
British College of Osteopathic Medicine (UK)