American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

History of the AOA

a-t-still-newspaper.jpgThe American Osteopathic Association serves as the professional home for more than 137,000 osteopathic physicians and medical students in the U.S. A distinct branch of medical practice, osteopathic medicine is based on a philosophy that all systems of the human body are interrelated, each working with the other to heal in times of illness.

This whole-person approach to care was pioneered by Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO, a Virginia-born frontier physician, toward the end of the nineteenth century. After three of his children died of spinal meningitis, Dr. Still (pictured) began searching for a better way to practice medicine.

'A better way'

Following a decade of study, Dr. Still developed a holistic approach emphasizing the musculoskeletal system's role in maintaining good health, as well as the interconnectedness of mind, body and spirit. His philosophy stressed the importance of preventive medicine and used a set of manual techniques, now known as osteopathic manipulative treatment, to help diagnose, treat and prevent illness and injury.  

Dr. Still founded the American School of Osteopathy in Kirsksville, Missouri, in 1892. As noted in a PBS documentary on the history of osteopathic medicine, the school took an inclusive approach by including women and minorities among its students, a rarity at the time.

Today, there are 34 accredited osteopathic medical schools offering instruction at 49 locations throughout the U.S., and osteopathic medicine is one of the fastest-growing health care professions in the country.

The AOA's mission

In 1897, a group of students organized the American Association for the Advancement of Osteopathy, which became known as the American Osteopathic Association in 1901.   

More than a century later, the AOA still works to advance the mission of Dr. Still by:

  • Promoting the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine. 

  • Serving as the primary certifying body for all osteopathic physicians and the accrediting agency for all osteopathic​ medical schools.

  • Promoting public health, encouraging scientific research and helping to ensure quality, cost-effective care for underserved patients.

Due to the osteopathic medical profession's emphasis on whole-person care, many DOs choose to enter primary care, focusing on family medicine, internal medicine or pediatrics. DOs also have a long history of practicing in rural and underserved communities, providing care to those who need it most.