by Lauren DiProspero, former admissions officer at Columbia University
Did you know that there are two medical degrees that lead to becoming a physician?
There is the MD (allopathic) and the DO (osteopathic). Application requirements for these degrees are similar: they both require the MCAT, experience in the field in the form of clinical exposure and research, and pre-requisite courses. Each degree’s medical training is similar: both are four-year medical school programs followed by three or more years of residency. Post-graduation outcomes are also similar: each program’s graduates are physicians who are trained and licensed to practice medicine – prescribing medicine, performing surgery, and practicing in specialty areas.
So what is the main difference between DO and MD degrees? Philosophy.
American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine’s Philosophy and Tenets of Osteopathic Medicine describes in detail the philosophy, principles, and oath of osteopathic medicine. Essentially, an osteopathic physician’s “principles allow the physician to consider all aspects of the patient, not just the symptoms. The osteopathic physician sees the integrated nature of the various organ systems and body’s capabilities for self-regulation and self-healing.”
That philosophy is present in how osteopathic physicians are educated and in the populations they tend to serve. Many graduates go into primary care and work in underserved populations in rural and urban communities. Importantly, the mission statements of many osteopathic medical schools focus on the goal of creating primary care physicians. In a survey of osteopathic medical school graduates, over one third shared that their intention was to practice in these communities. Although osteopathic physicians are only about 7% of practicing physicians, they account for “16% of the total number of patient visits in communities with small populations (fewer than 2,500).” And while they only make up a small percentage of practicing physicians, they account for more than 25% of medical students.
Many medical school applicants apply to both allopathic and osteopathic medical schools. To learn more about both medical degrees, prospective medical school applicants should shadow and seek out clinical experiences with both MD and DO physicians.