Meet doctor A and doctor B. Doctor A has an MD (Doctor of Medicine) degree. Doctor B has a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) degree. They work together at the same general practice. They each spend their days talking to patients, uncovering issues and providing recommendations and treatment plans. They’re both licensed physicians. In fact, one could say the only discernible difference between them is the letters on their diplomas.
So why are there two degrees—MD and DO—and two training paths for producing licenced physicians who often perform similar roles? More importantly, how can pre-med students choose between the two degrees?
DO vs. MD: The similarities
Undergraduate path. Undergraduate students pursuing either degree should obtain a bachelor’s degree, complete pre-med coursework and take the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT). Admission to both allopathic medical schools and osteopathic medical schools weighs heavily on test scores and grade-point averages.
Training length. Both MDs and DOs attend four years of medical school, followed by a residency program that ranges from three to seven years, depending on the specialty.
Licensing. Both MD and DO physicians are licensed by the same state boards and held to the same requirements for practicing medicine.
Capabilities. Both types of physicians may prescribe medications, treat patients in all 50 states, and pursue careers in any specialty.
DO vs. MD: The differences
Training focus. Osteopathic schools have a stronger focus on holistic medicine and disease prevention. As the American Osteopathic Association explains, students “receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system, which is the body’s interconnected system of nerves, muscles and bones. DOs use this knowledge to perform osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a series of hands-on techniques used to help diagnose illness or injury and facilitate the body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.” Learning OMT often requires students at osteopathic schools to complete additional hours of coursework beyond the general medical school curriculum.
Exams. While students pursuing both allopathic and osteopathic degrees take the same state board exams, DO students also take the Comprehensive Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) while MD students take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE).
Awareness. While the DO is growing in popularity, the MD is still more common. Osteopathic medical schools educate around 25% of all medical students in the United States. To learn more about the coursework required at allopathic medical schools, check out the curriculum at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.