Number of new osteopathic radiologists far outpaces new allopathic radiologists

Noting a recent increase in osteopathic enrollment at medical schools, a new Journal of the American College of Radiology study examined what the trend may signal for the future of the radiology workforce.

Young radiologist DOs are already changing the landscape; between 2014 and 2019, the study found that the number of osteopathic radiologists increased by 46.0%, while the number of allopathic radiologists increased by just 12.1%. 

To better understand the potential impacts of this shift, the authors looked at individual and practice characteristics for current radiologists in each category. They pulled data from Medicare Doctors and Clinicians Initiative databases and Physician and Other Supplier Files. 

“Hypothesizing that osteopathic radiologists, related to their schooling, may more likely practice as generalists and in rural areas, we aimed to characterize the recent osteopathic versus allopathic composition of the radiologist workforce,” wrote first author Stefan Santavicca, MS, a senior data analyst at Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Radiology and Imaging Services, and coauthors. 

Indeed, radiologists with DO degrees do seem to skew toward rural areas, especially in the Midwest. 

“Compared with allopathic radiologists whose distribution was more aligned with the overall US population, osteopathic radiologists were disproportionately concentrated in the Midwest and in rural and lower population density regions,” the authors wrote.

Additionally, the authors found that osteopathic radiologists are significantly more likely than allopathic radiologists to practice general radiology, as opposed to any particular subspecialty. That means that an increase of DO radiologists could offer some relief at a time when a nationwide shortage of radiologists threatens access to care. 

“Although historically there has been an emphasis on subspecialty training, this potentially leaves patients in rural areas (about one in six of U.S. population) disadvantaged with regard to geographic access.”

In addition to the areas in which they serve, DO radiologists can also differ from MDs in their approach to care, with the authors noting that many are “expanding care diversity through their training in the promotion of the body’s natural tendency towards self-healing and health.”

With osteopathic doctors increasingly choosing to specialize outside of primary care, the study’s authors note that they expect the trend of more DOs entering radiology to continue. 

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