When under the care of a physician, receiving treatment in the ER, or establishing care with a PCP, most people don't ask the physician what degree they have. In fact, many non-medical people and patients are entirely unaware that in the US there are two different medical degrees, MD and DO, and two different paths to becoming a physician. Here are four major differences (and similarities!) between the MD and DO degrees.
MD vs. DO: Admission to Medical School
Regardless of whether a medical school is osteopathic or allopathic, the admissions process is fairly similar. While the application server itself varies (AMCAS vs AACOMAS), the requirements for admission into a DO versus MD program are pretty standard: 4 year BA/BS undergraduate degree, completion of the core prerequisite courses (may vary a bit among institutions but for the most part includes courses such as general chemistry, general biology, organic, etc), volunteer/extracurricular activities, good grades, MCAT scores, leadership, etc.
The mean overall GPA for osteopathic applicants in 2018 according to AACOM was 3.43 (science 3.43, non-science 3.65). The mean overall GPA for allopathic applicants in 2018 was 3.55 (science 3.47, non-science 3.71) according to the AAMC. The mean MCAT for applicants to osteopathic schools in 2018 was 25.62 (old MCAT) and 503.83 (new MCAT). The mean MCAT for accepted applicants to allopathic programs was 511.2. The mean MCAT for accepted applicants to osteopathic programs was 503.1 (2018-2019). Most programs, regardless of MD or DO, want to see that students have shadowed a physician. In particular, most DO programs require applicants to have shadowed DO physicians specifically. Prospective students are perfectly able to apply to both MD and DO programs (and many do!).
MD vs. DO: Medical School Curriculum
Medical school teaches us to be well rounded, competent physicians regardless of the degree earned. Therefore, all US medical students, whether allopathic or osteopathic, will take the core basic science courses (biochemistry, immunology, cardiology, etc) as well as have anatomy labs. However, the structure of these courses tends to vary widely among institutions regardless of the degree program (amount of small group learning, clinical experience in the first two years, lecture style, testing, grading system, etc). The last two years of medical school involve clinical rotations in hospitals/clinics. One of the differences between MD and DO programs is that DO programs incorporate a type of teaching known as Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM) that will be ingrained throughout the curriculum.
MD vs. DO: Degree and Exam Prep
MD students take the USMLE exams (Steps 1, 2, and 3) only in order to earn their degree. While DO students may also take these exams, they are also required to take separate board exams known as the COMLEX exams (Levels 1, 2, and 3) in order to earn their DO degree. Many DO students elect to also take the USMLE exams in order to make themselves more competitive/comparable to MD applicants for residency programs, although this is not often required by most residency programs.
MD vs. DO: Post-Medical School Training
After graduating medical school, all graduates, regardless of the MD or DO degree, must complete a residency program in their choice of specialty in order to become board certified in their field and ultimately practice medicine unsupervised. DO and MD students ultimately have the same opportunities when it comes to choosing their career path and specialty (such as becoming a surgeon, ObGyn, family medicine doc, psychiatrist, etc). While some residency programs only accept one degree (such as a few osteopathic only residency programs) or historically tend to accept one type of degree, most US medical residency programs accept applications, and ultimately match, both DO and MD applicants. In general, a candidate's qualifications (such as board scores, research experiences, medical school grades, and letters of recommendations), carry much more weight than one's degree when it comes to matching into a residency program.
The bottom line: at the end of the day, a medical school graduate is a physician, regardless of the MD or DO title.
Interested in learning more about a career in osteopathic or allopathic medicine or how to apply to these programs? Check out the following osteopathic and allopathic programs.