Before you decide whether you want to apply to allopathic (MD) and/or osteopathic (DO) medical schools, I recommend that you shadow both types of doctors. They each represent dramatically different approaches to health and healing. Gaining exposure to both forms of medicine will help you make an informed decision about what types of treatment options you would like to be able to offer your patients.
There are 141 allopathic schools and 30 osteopathic schools in the U.S. Only two schools offer both programs, Michigan State and Rowan University. Statistically, there is a much larger number of MD’s practicing than DO’s. In researching the differences between these two courses of study, some students claim on premed forums that the DO schools are considered “less competitive” and therefore easier to matriculate into. The average MCAT and GPA for students accepted into MD programs in 2013 were 28.4 and 3.54 (3.44 science), while they were 26.87 and 3.5 (3.38 science) for DO programs for the same application year, as reported by the AAMC and ACCOMAS. While the osteopathic scores are lower, the numbers are not so dramatically different. Given the increasing number of students applying to medical school in recent years, the gaps between these numbers are closing quickly. The difference in scores for students accepted into either program are projected to shrink.
Essentially, the decision to apply allopathic or osteopathic should be based on the different educational advantages each approach can give you. The MD educational pathway includes more opportunities in research and speciality training, since allopathic medical schools have more funding and resources available in these areas. They are also more likely to have a hospital connected to their medical school campus. DO’s are best known for their hand’s- on and holistic approach to patient care. The DO route provides training in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM), also referred to as Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT), depending on the program. One attending physician who participated in a discussion forum claimed: “If it came down to choosing MD over DO, I would’ve picked DO again. The curriculum suited my personal interests at the time of applying and [I am] glad I did. Being an osteopathic physician has never really limited my options nor any of my colleagues in all fields. The manual skills if you are interested in musculoskeletal medicine are invaluable!”
This quote leads us directly into the second most common issue in the MD vs. DO dilemma: the issue of obtaining a residency after completing your medical education. One doctor argued that it’s “a statistical fact [that] a higher percentage of MD’s than DO’s match to highly competitive residencies.” In the past, there have been fewer residency spots available for DO residents than MD residents. However, in July 2014, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education announced that both DO and MD medical school graduates would be applying for residencies through a single match process in 2020. This merger will simplify the residency application process since currently there are two separate systems with two separate deadlines. Both of the licensing exams for MD’s and DO’s will be accepted, USMLE Step 1 and COMLEX Level 1 (at most schools).
The last point to take into consideration when considering which path to take is whether you are interested in practicing primary care or specializing. Most students are not able to make this decision until after they have completed their rotations and have gained exposure to all the possibilities. Some doctors argue that DO programs are excellent in training students for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and primary care. Capitalizing on this strength, there are DO schools that offer three-year accelerated programs in primary care. However, if you are interested in specializing you may have more opportunities in research and exposure to certain fields through an allopathic education.
To learn more about both programs:
• Shadow allopathic as well as osteopathic doctors
• Read books written by doctors from both backgrounds
• Attend premed conferences to meet representatives at all levels from both disciplines
• Visit medical school campuses and events
• Sign up for a mentoring program to work with a medical student mentor
• Join discussion forums and network to ask medical students, residents and doctors for their advice and opinions
Actively begin collecting more information about the options available to you. The more thought you put into your decision, the happier you will be with the end result. Both DO’s and MD’s provide valuable perspectives and approaches to patient care.
Alicia McNease Nimonkar is an Accepted advisor and editor specializing in healthcare admissions. Prior to joining Accepted, Alicia worked for five years as Student Advisor at UC Davis’ postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and related programs.