- The SGU Pulse
- MD vs. DO: The Definitive Guide to Help You Decide
- Allopathic vs. Osteopathic: Two different philosophies
- MD vs. DO: A brief history
- MD vs. DO: Medical school
- MD vs. DO: Residency and licensing exams
- MD vs. DO: Salary and career outlook
- What degree path should you follow?
- Search Campus and Health News
- Day in the Life
- DO vs. MD: What’s the difference?
- What is a DO?
- Discover the DO Difference
- Q: What’s the difference between an MD and a DO, and how do I choose?
- What’s the difference between MD and DO?
- What do other initials in healthcare mean?
- What’s a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine?
- DO vs MD: Similarities, Differences, and Which One is Better
The SGU Pulse
MD vs. DO: The Definitive Guide to Help You Decide
- Medical Practice
You’ve always felt drawn to the medical field. As a child, when someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, you’d answer, “A doctor,” with a smile on your face. But as you’ve grown up, you’ve realized there’s more that goes into the title of “doctor” than you knew.
There are countless medical specialties out there and even different degrees associated with the medical field. The terms “doctor” and “MD” are often used interchangeably, when in reality, this isn’t entirely accurate. The truth is that licensed physicians can have either an MD or a DO degree.
While the MD versus DO discussion may have appeared on your radar a few times, it can be tricky to decipher how these degrees are distinct. What does DO stand for? What does MD stand for? And does one align more with your beliefs?
In order to help you understand your options, we put together a comprehensive comparison of MD and DO degrees. Take a look at the similarities and differences so you can decide which program best fits your unique goals and priorities.
Allopathic vs. Osteopathic: Two different philosophies
Allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO) medical schools both teach students the scientific foundations needed to become licensed physicians, but they take different approaches. Most people are familiar with allopathic medicine, a science-based practice focused on diagnosing and treating medical conditions.
Some people ultimately choose to pursue allopathic medicine because it’s the only type they know, which was the case for SGU graduate Dr. Benjamin Stueben, a pathologist and Lead Editor for BoardVitals. “To be honest, my dad’s side of the family were mostly MDs, so I didn’t put any thought into going for a different degree,” he explains. “In fact, I didn’t really learn what a DO was until I had already started medical school.”
Osteopathic medicine, while similar, takes a more holistic approach and focuses heavily on prevention. DOs also learn something called osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a hands-on method that involves moving muscles and joints in a way designed to promote healing.
“In osteopathic medical school, we learned that the patient is a whole unit and not just individual parts,” says Dr. Jill Garripoli, a pediatrician and owner of Healthy Kids Pediatrics. This whole-body approach is often one of the biggest reasons an individual ends up choosing to become a DO.
Ultimately, the decision of pursuing allopathic versus osteopathic education is a matter of personal preference.
MD vs. DO: A brief history
The term “allopathic medicine” wasn’t used until the 1800s. The new language was needed to differentiate this type of medicine from homeopathic medicine, a practice based on the notion that using small doses of something that causes illness can also help cure it. Allopathic medicine was actually considered the more radical method at the time.
Osteopathic medicine wasn’t introduced until 1874, when Dr. Andrew Taylor Still started sharing his observations from practicing as an MD. Dr. Still wanted to focus on treating the patient as a whole instead of focusing on a specific disease or symptom. This philosophy led him to develop the OMT techniques taught today.
Since both degree paths lead to the same destination of becoming a licensed doctor, the lines have blurred a bit in recent years. Even institutions most people associate with allopathic physicians are bringing DOs onboard.
MD vs. DO: Medical school
Getting into medical school takes hard work, and that goes for both DO and MD programs. Both a solid GPA and MCAT score are important. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, applicants who were accepted to allopathic medical schools for the 2018–19 school year averaged 511.2 on the MCAT and had a 3.72 GPA average.
The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine breaks down GPA figures for varying levels of education, but those going from a bachelor’s program to medical school averaged a 3.54. The mean MCAT score for applicants who were accepted into a DO program was 503.8.
Both osteopathic and allopathic medical school programs typically last four years and include medical science coursework as well as clinical rotations. What really sets DO school apart is the training focused on OMT. Most programs require at least 200 hours dedicated to this hands-on technique.
Dr. Garripoli says these techniques help students in DO school understand how the body operates as a whole. “We learned that the body is completely interconnected and that there are manual techniques to help a person restore their optimal health,” she explains.
There’s some debate about whether these manipulative techniques are truly beneficial. Skeptics point to research suggesting results are inconclusive. On the other hand, there are studies indicating this type of hands-on treatment can be effective. One example is a recent review that found premature babies experienced shorter hospital stays when OMT was used.
MD vs. DO: Residency and licensing exams
Things start to diverge for DOs and MDs more when it comes to licensing exams. While students at allopathic schools take the USMLE series, osteopathic students typically take the COMLEX sequence. Both are three-step exams and most students take them following this schedule: The first step comes near the end of a student’s second year, the second comes sometime during fourth year, and the last step comes after the first year of residency.
Many DO students have previously opted to take the USMLE as well—they sometimes found they were more interested in residency programs requiring the USMLE. But this isn’t necessary anymore given the move to a single graduate medical education accreditation system. Osteopathic and allopathic medical students now have access to the same pool of residency programs. That said, some programs have chosen to seek Osteopathic Recognition to demonstrate a commitment to DO principles and training.
There are a lot of intricate details involved in residency matching, but we’re going to focus on the main points. The most important thing to know is this process is crucial for snagging placement in a residency program. For 2019, 90.3 percent of students and previous graduates of allopathic programs matched using the National Resident Matching Program. Osteopathic students and graduates had a match rate of 84.6 percent.
MD vs. DO: Salary and career outlook
You may be wondering whether there’s a pay difference between MD and DO physicians. But you really aren’t going to find a difference in comparing an osteopathic doctor’s salary to an allopathic doctor’s salary. Earning potential actually doesn’t depend on the degree as much as the medical specialty you choose to pursue. To give you an idea, here are a few specialties that are common among MDs and DOs alike, along with the median annual salary and projected job growth, according to the US Department of Labor.
2018 Median annual salary: $208,000+
Projected employment growth (2016-2026): 15% or higher
Family and general practitioners
2018 Median annual salary: $201,100
Projected employment growth (2016-2026): 10 to 14%
2018 Median annual salary: $170,560
Projected employment growth (2016-2026): 15% or higher
2018 Median annual salary: $194,500
Projected employment growth (2016-2026): 15% or higher
2018 Median annual salary: $208,000+
Projected employment growth (2016-2026): 15% or higher
What degree path should you follow?
You are now equipped with some important information to help you decide between MD versus DO programs, but Dr. Stueben has one more word of wisdom. “For those deciding between MD or DO programs, I’d apply to both and base your decision not on the degree, but on all the other factors that go into choosing a school,” he advises.
Because there are so many things to consider when deciding which school to attend, you’ll want to do your research. Learn more about how to critically compare programs by reading, “How to Choose a Medical School: 9 Things to Evaluate Before Accepting.”
*This article was originally published in December 2017. It’s since been updated to reflect information relevant to 2019.
Have dreams of becoming a doctor?
TAGS: medical school advice
In a society where television is dominated by medical dramas, everybody should be familiar with the term “M.D.” An M.D. degree is conferred to someone who is fully trained to practice medicine; a person with an M.D. degree can be trusted to treat illnesses and to often save lives. But did you know that there are two types of doctors that can practice medicine in the United States? Have you heard of “D.O.”?
D.O. stands for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. A person who holds this degree can practice medicine in all fifty states. An M.D. and a D.O. receive practically the same medical training and have the same rights and responsibilities in regards to healthcare. Just like an M.D., a D.O. must complete four years of medical school followed by residency and if desired, a fellowship. Virtually every type of specialization available to an M.D. is also available to a D.O.
If you are pre-med, it is likely that you want to enter an M.D. medical school over a D.O. medical school. But why is this? Why do students care so much for an M.D. if they are equivalent degrees? Is one better than the other? Let’s see if looking at some “disadvantages” of being a D.O. can help answer those questions.
An M.D. degree is generally more respected than a D.O. degree; I imagine it’d be pretty hard to find someone who would argue against that in the United States. Almost everyone associates a physician with an M.D. degree, so a D.O. doctor might naturally feel inferior to an M.D. doctor. Furthermore, some in the health field believe that a D.O. is a substandard degree because it is easier to obtain. An admission into a D.O. medical school is statistically easier than to an M.D. medical school; an M.D. medical school matriculate has an average GPA of around 3.67 while a D.O. matriculate has approximately a 3.5. However, it is important to realize that good reputation does not necessarily correlate with good practice. There are many D.O. physicians who are nationally renown for their trade.
2. Limited International Opportunities
The M.D. degree is recognized all over the world. Therefore, a physician with an M.D. degree could practice medicine in many other countries. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about a D.O. physician. Because a D.O. does not have the same international reputation as of an M.D., it will be significantly harder to practice medicine outside of the United States. Though not impossible, it would be more difficult to persuade other nations that a D.O. is equivalent to an M.D.
3. Lower Salaries
There is good reason to argue against this being a “disadvantage.” While it is true that statically D.O.’s earn less than M.D.’s, it is not because D.O.’s are regarded as less qualified or less marketable. All things constant, an M.D. and a D.O. receive about the same compensation. However, about 60% of D.O. physicians are in primary care fields. Since doctors in primary care are generally paid less than those in more specialized fields, this would obviously bring down the average wage for a D.O. physician.
4. Difficulty Levels in Obtaining Desired Residency
A D.O. graduate can enter either a D.O. residency program or an M.D. residency program. However, it may be harder for D.O.’s to obtain admissions into certain residency programs. There are some residency programs that tend to favor M.D. graduates. It is not clear if it is because they favor the degree itself or because the most qualified applicants tend to be M.D. graduates. Either way, evidence seems to indicate that obtaining some residency positions is easier for an M.D.
Note: Practically every US medical school graduate, D.O. or M.D., gets placed into a residency program. D.O. medical school graduates do not have a hard time obtaining admissions into a residency program. D.O.’s may have a harder time obtaining admissions into certain residency programs.
Although the education may be almost equivalent, there definitely are factors that can make a pre-med pursue an M.D. degree over a D.O. degree. However, great efforts have been made to decrease the gap between the two titles and it is likely that the trend will continue.
Jordan Cohen, the president of the American Medical Association has stated that “after more than a century of often bitterly contentious relationships between the osteopathic and allopathic medical professions, we now find ourselves living at a time when osteopathic and allopathic graduates are both sought after by many of the same residency programs; are in most instances both licensed by the same licensing boards; are both privileged by many of the same hospitals; and are found in appreciable numbers on the faculties of each other’s medical schools.”
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ProspectiveDoctor. Follow ProspectiveDoctor on Twitter @ProspectiveDr
Search Campus and Health News
Day in the Life
DO vs. MD: What’s the difference?
Date 04/26/2017 Article
Choosing a medical school also involves choosing between two types of degree programs: Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO).
Most medical schools — including the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA — offer the traditional MD. However, there are 33 accredited colleges of osteopathic medicine in the U.S., according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM).
When choosing between a DO vs. MD degree, here’s what pre-med students need to know:
DO vs. MD: The similarities
Physicians earning either degree have much in common, both in terms of training and practice. Most pre-med students follow the same undergraduate path — obtaining a bachelor’s degree, completing pre-med coursework and taking the MCAT. Then they attend four years of medical school, followed by a residency program that ranges from three to seven years, depending on the specialty.
Both MD and DO physicians are licensed by the same state licensing boards and held to the same requirements for practicing medicine. Both can prescribe medications and treat patients in all 50 states. While DO doctors tend to become general practitioners, they may pursue careers in any chosen specialty, including surgery.
How is medical school different for students pursuing a DO vs. an MD?
DO vs. MD: The differences
Most students attend traditional (or allopathic) medical schools that offer an MD. However, osteopathic medical schools are growing in popularity. Reporting on the most recent annual data, the AACOM says osteopathic medical schools educate around 20% of all medical students in the United States.
While osteopathic programs tend to be less competitive than allopathic medical schools, students in both programs receive similar training. However, osteopathic schools have a stronger focus on alternative therapies, holistic medicine and disease prevention. As the American Osteopathic Association explains, students “receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system, which is the body’s interconnected system of nerves, muscles and bones. DOs use this knowledge to perform osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a series of hands-on techniques used to help diagnose illness or injury and facilitate the body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.”
Learning OMT requires students at osteopathic schools to complete an additional 200 hours of coursework beyond the general medical school curriculum. While students pursuing both allopathic and osteopathic degrees take the same state board exams, DO students also take the Comprehensive Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) while MD students take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE).
To learn more about the coursework required at allopathic medical schools, check out the curriculum at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
By Taylor Mallory Holland
What is a DO?
Discover the DO Difference
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine use a unique whole-person approach to help prevent illness and injury.
What is a DO? Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, are fully licensed physicians who practice in all areas of medicine. Emphasizing a whole-person approach to treatment and care, DOs are trained to listen and partner with their patients to help them get healthy and stay well. Learn more about the DO differenceand compare physician training requirements to those required for other types of clinicians.
DOs receive special training in the musculoskeletal system, your body’s interconnected system of nerves, muscles and bones. By combining this knowledge with the latest advances in medical technology, they offer patients the most comprehensive care available in medicine today.
Osteopathic physicians focus on prevention, tuning into how a patient’s lifestyle and environment can impact their wellbeing. DOs strive to help you be truly healthy in mind, body and spirit—not just free of symptoms.
Which health care provider is right for you?
Find out on DoctorsThatDO.org
From their first days of education and training, DOs learn to:
- Look beyond symptoms of illness and disease to examine the whole patient.
- Partner with patients to help prevent illness and injury.
- Use their hands to diagnose illness and injury and increase your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.
If you’ve never been to a DO before, you may wonder what to expect. A typical office visit includes four parts:
- Interview: Your DO will talk with you about your medical history. In addition, you will be asked about your home, work and family life.
- Exam: The DO will perform a complete physical exam, including a check of your posture, spine, joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments. If necessary, tests will be ordered.
- Diagnosis: The DO will consider the results of the interview and exam to determine what may be causing your symptoms.
- Treatment: The DO will suggest a treatment plan. DOs practice according to the latest science and technology, but also consider options to complement pharmaceuticals and surgery. Your treatment plan may also include Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT), a hands-on treatment DOs use to diagnose illness and injury and encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.
Q: What’s the difference between an MD and a DO, and how do I choose?
A: The simple answer is that both an MD (Doctor of Medicine) and a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) are doctors licensed to practice in the United States. They are similarly educated and certified, but there are differences in their training and philosophy of patient care.
Nine out of 10 practicing doctors in this country are MDs or allopathic physicians, according to the latest data published by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) in 2012. As the FSMB points out in its Census of Actively Licensed Physicians, however, “the osteopathic medical profession continues to experience exponential growth in its numbers.”
The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) estimates the number of DOs in active medical practice in the United States will surpass 100,000 by next year. According to AOA data, 10 states saw greater than 45 percent growth in the number of DOs between 2009 and 2014.
While your chances of choosing a doctor who’s a DO may be on the rise, most healthcare consumers aren’t sure what osteopathy actually is. The key, according to the AOA, is osteopathy’s “whole person” approach to medicine.
“The osteopathic philosophy involves treating the mind, the body, and the spirit. It’s a more holistic approach,” says Michael Jonesco, DO, of Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University in Columbus. “For the patient, the osteopathic approach is less about prescribing medications and medical procedures and more on the body trying to heal itself.”
RELATED: The Mainstreaming of Osteopathic Medicine
As part of their medical education, DOs receive additional musculoskeletal training known as osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). The AOA describes OMT as a hands-on healing method often used to treat muscle pain that can help patients with conditions such as asthma, sinus disorders, and migraines.
“MDs receive more of the traditional training,” says Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, dean of the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. “The training of an osteopathic physician has a lot more to do with the physical manipulation of the body.” The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) represents 30 accredited colleges of osteopathic medicine in the United States.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and AACOM offer information on how to apply to allopathic or osteopathic medical schools.
Like MDs, DOs can practice in any medical specialty, but a majority choose primary care specialties. The AOA estimates that 6 out of 10 osteopathic physicians practice family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics, or obstetrics and gynecology.
Choosing a doctor, allopathic or osteopathic, is a very personal choice. As Dr. Kaushansky says, “you want to choose someone you feel comfortable with. There are many resources to help you choose, and word of mouth is okay, too. But you need to do your homework.”
Do you have a health-related question for Dr. Gupta? You can submit it here. For more health news and advice, visit Health Matters With Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
What’s the difference between MD and DO?
Let’s start at the top. As far as MDs (allopathic physicians) and DOs (osteopathic physicians), both kinds of doctors are board-certified and licensed in all 50 states to practice medicine and surgery, as well as prescribe medication. Both attend four years of medical school, plus a residency program, and both can be primary care physicians or specialize in areas like cardiology, orthopedics, or dermatology.
Here’s how they differ:
What’s an MD? A medical doctor (MD, or allopathic physician) attends an allopathic (or traditional) medical school that focuses on teaching sciences like anatomy and physiology, the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, and providing preventative care. All MDs treat disorders and injuries by using methods aimed at counteracting the problem.
What’s a DO? A doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) attends an osteopathic medical school, which focuses on a holistic view of medicine. An osteopathic medical school emphasizes a whole-person approach to care, such as the environment, nutrition, and all the body systems for diagnosis and treatment — in addition to focusing on the sciences, diagnosis, and treatment. As part of their training, DOs must take additional hours to learn about the musculoskeletal system.
What do other initials in healthcare mean?
Here’s a rundown of a few other initials you might find after the name of a healthcare professional.
What’s an NP or a PA? A nurse practitioner (NP) and a physician assistant (PA) both diagnose and treat illnesses, develop treatment plans, prescribe medications, and serve as a patient’s main healthcare provider. Most PAs have a master’s degree and practice with physicians and other providers. NPs will have either a master’s or doctorate degree, more education hours than PAs, and they can have a private practice in some states. PAs and NPs are also known as advanced practice clinicians (APCs).
What’s an RN or an LPN? A registered nurse (RN) and a licensed practical nurse (LPN) have very different roles, but both care for patients. An RN will have an associate’s degree (and most times a bachelor’s degree) in nursing and may specialize in one area, such as women and newborn or cardiac care. You’ll find RNs administering medication, monitoring patients, documenting care, and consulting with other healthcare providers. An LPN will have about a year of nursing education and perform less technical tasks, like taking vital signs and observing patients.
What’s a CNA or patient care tech? A certified nursing assistant (CNA) and patient care tech may refer to the same role at Intermountain. This licensed professional provides basic care and clinical support to patients. They collaborate with RNs and others, and help with patient and family requests.
What’s a DPM? A podiatrist is a doctor or surgeon of foot medicine (DPM) that specializes in the foot, ankle, and structures of the leg. A podiatrist treats lower extremity disorders, diseases, and injuries. They may have a private or group practice and will have completed four years at a podiatric medical school and at least two years of postgraduate residence training. It’s important to know that a podiatrist is different from a medical doctor (MD) who is an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon. An orthopedic surgeon will have a significantly higher amount of medical training.
To find a doctor near you, search Intermountain here.
What’s a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine?
- Larger text sizeLarge text sizeRegular text size
It’s easy to recognize doctors just by reading their nametags. After all, they have the letters MD (for doctor of medicine) after their last names, right?
But what if you see the letters DO? You might be surprised to learn that DO is an abbreviation for another type of physician: a doctor of osteopathic medicine, or osteopathic physician.
What’s a DO?
According to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), osteopathic medicine is a complete system of health care with a philosophy that combines the needs of the patient with the current practice of medicine. Doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) practice a whole-person approach, which means they consider both the physical and mental needs of their patients. DOs strive to help patients be truly healthy in mind and body — not just free of symptoms.
This “holistic” approach to health care was developed by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, who feared that 19th-century medicine was doing more harm than good. Disgusted at the ineffectiveness of fellow practitioners during the Civil War, he decided to focus on the body’s ability to heal itself and began to stress preventive medicine. He also identified the musculoskeletal system as a key element of health, stressing that muscles, nerves, bones, and organs are all interrelated. In 1892, Dr. Still founded the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri.
A key part of osteopathic medicine is a technique called OMT, or osteopathic manipulative treatment. In OMT, physicians use their hands as a primary tool to diagnose and treat illness and injury. This form of manual medicine lets DOs examine the back and other parts of the body (such as joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles) for pain and restriction during motion that could signal an injury or impaired function.
Although they sometimes focus on the back, these physicians are not chiropractors. OMT is a treatment very specific to how and where people injure themselves and how that injury can lead to symptoms.
DOs and MDs
Only two types of medical doctors are recognized in the United States: MDs and DOs. Both are licensed by state and specialty boards to practice medicine, perform surgery, and write prescriptions. Applicants to both DO and MD colleges usually have a 4-year undergraduate degree with an emphasis on science courses, and both complete 4 years of basic medical education.
Whether you opt for a DO or an MD, both are good choices when it comes to your child’s health.
In fact, both DOs and MDs:
- can choose to practice in a specialty area of medicine, such as surgery or obstetrics
- complete a residency program, which usually takes 3 to 6 years of additional training
- must pass comparable state licensing examinations
- are equal in the eyes of the law
- practice in fully accredited hospitals and medical centers
- can order medical tests and perform procedures
- must maintain a prescribed level of continuing medical education (CME) to remain credentialed and licensed
About 96,000 osteopathic physicians now practice in the United States. Because osteopathic schools emphasize primary care training, more than half of all DOs practice in areas such as pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, and internal medicine.
To Find a DO
You can find DOs through the American Osteopathic Association, or through local osteopathic hospitals and state osteopathic medical associations. And many MDs and DOs practice together as members of the same group.
Reviewed by: Ryan J. Brogan, DO Date reviewed: September 2016
DO vs MD: Similarities, Differences, and Which One is Better
So how can you be sure that you’re getting a high-quality health care professional? First, make sure they’re board-certified. After their residencies and fellowships, doctors sit for exams administered by specialty organizations. You can check to see if your doc’s certified in the area he or she practices here. The task of giving doctors the OK to practice—and weeding out bad seeds—falls to the state, so you could follow up with the medical board (here’s a directory) to see if your doc’s license is current and contains any black marks.
Most health care providers also have online bios—give yours a quick search. These profiles can tell you where he or she went to school and did residencies and fellowships. You want to look for accredited programs, Hawley says; cross-reference with the Liaison Committee on Medical Education or American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine for schools and the ACGME for post-grad positions. That’ll help you get a sense of their philosophy, Peterson says, and whether or not it’s a good fit for your needs.
Both are types of licensed physicians, so why the difference in letters?
There are two breeds of doctors in the United States: Doctors of Medicine (M.D.) and Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.).
Many people don’t even know there are two types – and that’s largely because the care you receive doesn’t differ much depending on whether you see an M.D. or D.O. But there are differences in how they train to be doctors, occasionally in how they practice, and many times in their overall philosophies. Here’s a takedown of the differences:
These are the textbook definitions according to Medical School HQ:
M.D.s practice allopathic medicine, the classical form of medicine, focused on the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases.
D.O.s practice osteopathic medicine which is centered around a more holistic view of medicine in which the focus is on seeing the patient as a “whole person” to reach a diagnosis, rather than treating the symptoms alone.
Both MD’s and DO’s undergo four years of medical school before submitting themselves to residency programs to finish their training and become full-fledged physicians.
The main difference between MD and DO medical school is that DO’s learn Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM – a.k.a. Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment, OMT). OMM is a set of techniques DO students learn over the course of an extra 200 hours or so. It’s a type of manual spine, muscle and bone therapy that injuries and illnesses like back pain and asthma can benefit from. It also can help doctors diagnose patients more accurately and serves as one of many treatment options in an osteopathic physician’s arsenal of options.
Residency programs are either accredited by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) or Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) – though a few are accredited by both. DO’s can apply to all allopathic residency programs and osteopathic residency programs – but MD’s can only apply to allopathic programs.
Acceptance Rate Differences
DO programs are considered “easier” to get into by some people. Both types of medical schools are difficult to get into – but in terms of average GPA and MCAT score: DO programs tend to have lower standards. In 2012, the average MCAT score for students entering MD programs was 31.2, while for DO programs it was 26.85. But – this gap has been shrinking every year.
In general, MD and DO programs attract different types of candidates. Around 60% of Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine work in primary care – that is internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics or OBGYN. A much smaller percentage of MD’s work in primary care.
Aspiring doctors who know they don’t want to specialize in anything beyond primary care settings might head into an DO program to find more like-minded individuals. Acceptance rates to residency programs also vary between MDs and DOs. DO’s match about 70% of the time while MD’s match 95% of the time. “Matching” is extremely important because it determines where a medical student will begin and complete their residency program.
Differences in Practice
DO’s are often called the “whole person” doctors. They are taught to look at the origin of an illness and a patient’s entire situation rather than focus on any one specific disease or illness; they are also taught to focus on prevention. Research also shows DO’s are more likely to remember and use a patient’s first name when treating them.
The head organization of Osteopathic Doctors – the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) – explains the four principles of osteopathic to be:
The body is an integrated unit of mind, body and spirit.
The body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms, having the inherent capability to defend, repair and remodel itself.
Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated
Rational therapy is based on consideration of the first three principles These tenets serve as the underlying philosophy of osteopathic medicine. They’re not rules or laws – they’re more like considerations DO’s learn to take into account as they practice medicine and heal patients. Aside from their differences in training and acceptance rates, MD’s and DO’s practicing in the same specialities post-residency have almost the same salaries.
Pretending there hasn’t been controversy between the two breeds of doctors would be naive. There is a lot of pride on both sides of the aisle – for DO’s and MD’s. Though the curriculum in their medical training is now nearly indistinguishable except for OMM, but many DO’s and MD’s believe there is a world of difference. For more perspective, ask your doctors what they think about each type. Sentiment about the ‘differences’ are unique person to person and doctor to doctor. Some physicians may feel very strongly one way or another, while others are content to call the two breeds equal.
The Bottom Line
MD’s and DO’s are both highly educated, qualified doctors, and both types are qualified to take care of your health. There are many other factors that you should consider when choosing a doctor, including communication skills, bedside manner and experience in performing the procedures you need.