Should I go DO or MD?

Before you make the choice to attend osteopathic medical school it is important that you know why you are following this path rather than the M.D. route of medical education. Although every student will enter medical school for their own reasons, it is important to find out if your goals are in line with the mission and philosophy of osteopathic medicine before you choose this path.

Despite what you may have heard, you should not apply to osteopathic medical school if you are looking for an easier or quicker route into medicine. Standards for entrance to osteopathic colleges are generally just as competitive as allopathic (M.D.) medical schools. The curriculum at osteopathic medical school follows a very similar outline to that of allopathic schools with the addition of a few key osteopathic specific courses.

Here are some facts about osteopathic medicine:

  • 1 in 5 U.S. medical students is attending an osteopathic medical school
  • Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S.
  • 7% of medical practitioners in the U.S. are D.O.s
  • D.O.s are licensed to practice medicine in all 50 states
  • In addition to the training an allopathic medical student would receive, osteopathic medical students receive an extra 200 hours of training in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine
  • Osteopathic physicians are able to practice in any specialty, perform surgery and prescribe drugs just like any M.D.
  • The are currently 25 osteopathic medical schools which operate a total of 28 training sites.
  • There were 11,849 applicants hoping to fill the 4,389 total seats that were available for Fall 2008 (approx. 1 in 3 applicants is accepted).

Chances are that the reason you are interested in osteopathic medical education is that either you know a D.O. or you have visited one as a patient. Although many patients will likely not even notice that their doctor holds the title of D.O. rather than M.D., many will appreciate the medical philosophy from the minute they meet their doctor. While the scientific training of osteopathic and allopathic physicians is nearly identical, the ideology is what sets the two apart. While MD’s often approach medical care by treating the symptoms of a condition, DO’s are taught to take a holistic approach toward health care that address the cause(s) of the problem. states:

“DOs are trained to look at the whole person from their first days of medical school, which means they see each person as more than just a collection of organ systems and body parts that may become injured or diseased. This holistic approach to patient care means that osteopathic medical students learn how to integrate the patient into the health care process as a partner. They are trained to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds, and they get the opportunity to practice these skills in their classrooms and learning laboratories, frequently with standardized and simulated patients. The osteopathic medical profession has a proud heritage of producing primary care practitioners. In fact, the mission statements of the majority of osteopathic medical schools state plainly that their purpose is the production of primary care physicians. Osteopathic medical tradition preaches that a strong foundation in primary care makes one a better physician, regardless of what specialty they may eventually practice.”

Of course, M.D.s and D.O.s both share a common goal and often practice in the same offices and hospitals. There are many patients which will prefer one approach over the other and osteopathic medicine is not for everyone.

Osteopathic Medicine was born in Missouri during the early 1800s by a young doctor by the name of Andrew Taylor Still. Dr. Still was a classically trained allopathic physician who was passionate about the healing arts. Out of his medical research and practice, Dr. Still developed a belief that the body acts as a unified system and that if its parts are returned to their natural position then the body will resume its ability to optimize the function as it was designed (Orenstein, 2005). Still held that a manual manipulation of the body would restore it to good health. Further, he concluded that the medicines of his day facilitated more harm than benefit and that they were unnecessary to the attainment of restored well-being (Orenstein, 2005). Many of the medicines of Still’s day are now known to have many harmful effects which outweighed the benefits.

Osteopathic medicine incorporates many of the best aspects of allopathic medicine and naturopathic approaches to health care. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, “Osteopathic medicine provides all of the benefits of modern medicine including prescription drugs, surgery, and the use of technology to diagnose disease and evaluate injury. It also offers the added benefit of hands-on diagnosis and treatment through a system of therapy known as osteopathic manipulative medicine. Osteopathic medicine emphasizes helping each person achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, 2007). ” Due to the fact that osteopathic physicians are licensed in all 50 states with the same rights to practice as MD’s, they are not limited to manipulative medical care only, but are able to utilize pharmaceuticals, and technology to provide their patients with the most appropriate care for their needs. Frequently patients seeking a doctor may not recognize their doctor as an allopathic or osteopathic physician unless they look at the doctor’s title or analyze the method of care they receive. Osteopathic physicians are just as commonly covered by insurance policies and government health care programs as allopathic physicians (Peters, Chiarelli, & Block, 1999).

Osteopathic medical schools currently have curriculum that very closely reflects that found in allopathic schools. Schedule and course work within the 21 osteopathic medical schools currently accredited throughout the country essentially consists of the same components as allopathic colleges. The first two semesters of a medical student’s career are focused on studying the basic sciences while the last 2 years are used in performing clinical rotations in a variety of health care fields. While the number of first year osteopathic medical students has grown from 1879 students in 1968 to over 15,500 students in 2007 (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, 2008), the number of practitioners that practice the traditional healing art of osteopathic manipulation is only about 500 (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, 2007). Most osteopathic practitioners do not employ the use of Osteopathic Manipulative Technique (OMT), choosing to utilize allopathic methods of treatment instead (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, 2007).

While there are many similarities between the two, some of the differences between D.O.s and M.D.s generally include:

  • Method of treatment: Although both D.O.s and M.D.s are licensed to prescribe and offer the same treatments, many patients have found significant differences in the types of treatment used by each type of physician.
  • Time spent with patients: D.O.s are typically known for spending slightly more time with patients in assessments and appointments.Typically D.O.s are known to spend more time discussing treatment options with patients.
  • Philosophy of care: D.O.s are taught to view patients from a holistic point of view.

It is important to recognize that these are generalizations and great practitioners can be found in both osteopathic and allopathic medicine but they are a good means of determining which route is the right one for you as you make the giant leap to attend medical school.



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