What is osteopathic medicine?
Osteopathic medicine (OM) has a distinct philosophy, emphasizing a whole-person approach, partnering with patients, and wellness. The four tenets of the osteopathic approach are as follows, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine:
- The body is a unit; the person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit.
- The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing and health maintenance.
- Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.
- Rational treatment is based upon an understanding of the basic principles of body unity, self-regulation and the interrelationship of structure and function.
While allopathic schools have begun integrating these concepts into their curriculum, they are long-standing core values in osteopath programs. In addition to these tenets, osteopathic (DO) schools teach osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) as a hands-on approach to treating a variety of conditions. If these unique features of OM appeal to you, you might want to explore further.
Osteopathic vs. allopathic
While osteopathic (DO) schools approach medicine with a different toolbox than allopathic (MD) schools, the core training and practice specializations are similar. In the past, DOs sometimes had a harder time getting accepted to competitive residencies and fellowships or finding employment in academic settings. In addition, many osteopathic med students applied to DO-specific residencies, so MDs and DOs had little awareness of one another’s skills. However, as of July 2020, osteopathic graduates apply to the same residencies as allopathic graduates. This merge was part of a drive to standardize postgraduate training so that all physicians have a comparable level of proficiency. It also reflects the fact that DO schools have become increasingly competitive, and DO graduates are highly skilled and well trained, just like their MD counterparts.Sometimes applicants consider applying to DO programs as a backup, thinking of them as “safety schools,” but this strategy often backfires. Osteopathic schools are looking for applicants with an awareness of and a commitment to osteopathic principles.
Show your interest in osteopathy
To demonstrate this commitment, you need to show your awareness of the unique osteopathic therapeutic approaches. You also want to convey why you want to care for patients using osteopathic modalities. If you do not have a well-designed and convincing reason for applying, your application will likely be rejected.
In your application, you should be sure to do the following:
1. Share your excitement about unique aspects of osteopathic training.
2. Discuss osteopathic modalities.
3. Convey what a “holistic” approach to patients involves.
4. Show your personal fit for osteopathy.
5. Get a letter of recommendation from a DO (required for many DO programs).
Benefits of applying to both allopathic and osteopathic medical schools
You don’t need to settle on just one type of program! For some applicants, applying to both MD and DO programs is the right choice.
You should consider going this route if any of the following apply to you:
1. You are genuinely interested in both MD and DO training and think you have a chance at getting accepted to either type of program.
2. You want to learn more about each program and feel you can make a more informed decision by going through the application and interview process for both.
3. There are DO and MD programs in your geographic area and you have a strong reason for wanting to stay in the region.
4. You really want to be a clinician – preferably in primary care – and are open-minded about both approaches.
Risks of applying to both allopathic and osteopathic medical schools
Then again, you might also want to consider these drawbacks:
1. DO schools require a separate application (via the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service, or AACOMAS), so applying to both can double your time, work, and cost. It could even result in a lower quality of ALL your applications if you are unable to dedicate enough time and focus to each secondary.
2. The personal statement for osteopathic schools warrants a different emphasis. If you simply make cuts to and submit it to AACOMAS, it will not be as convincing as if you took the time to approach it separately.
3. The average GPA of students accepted to DO schools increases every year, and some DO schools have lower overall acceptance rates than allopathic schools.
4. Many DO schools expect you to shadow and get a letter of recommendation from a practicing DO. These can be hard to obtain, so start looking for such opportunities at least a year before you plan to apply.
5. If you are lucky enough to be accepted to a DO school early in the cycle, you often need to put down a deposit to save your place. If you eventually decide to attend an allopathic school, you could end up losing that deposit.
As a medical school applicant, you have two amazing choices. Allopathic and osteopathic schools offer related, yet distinct paths to becoming a clinician and physician. Before applying, do your research and examine your options carefully. Then you can thoughtfully pursue the path that is right for you.
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Dr. Suzi Schweikert has served on the UCSD School of Medicine’s admissions committee and has mentored students in healthcare programs for more than 20 years. She holds a BA in English literature from UCLA, an MD from UCSD, and an MPH from SDSU. Want Suzi to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch with Dr. Suzi Schweikert..