Osteopathic and Allopathic Medicine Comparison and Overview

Summary: Both allopathic doctors (MDs) and osteopathic doctors (DOs) are practicing physicians, are fully licensed to practice medicine, and span a variety of specializations. However, there are some important differences between an MD program and a DO program, including the application process and cost of tuition. The central difference, though, is philosophical: allopathic medicine tends to focus on remedying ailments by external means; osteopathic medicine tends to focus on prevention and the body's ability to heal itself. This post will help you understand both similarities and key differences in education for each kind of physician. Follow this link to learn more about the DO school application.

DO vs MD

We are faced with hundreds of choices a day. What toppings do you want on your avocado toast? How many shots of espresso? Do I share another photo of my dog on my Instagram? (The answer is always yes!) Making these choices are effortless, even instinctual. The choice you made to pursue medicine might have felt similar. What may not seem so easy is deciding whether you want to study allopathic (MD) or osteopathic (DO) medicine. It is a decision that should be thought of carefully. Picking a school that is not a good fit for you could end up in disappointment. Let us help you make an informed decision. There are countless forums and opinions on the topic; so to cut through the clutter here is a straightforward guide to help.

Here is what you will learn in this post:

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You can also check out our DO vs MD video!

DO vs MD: Education

At their core, both MD and DO programs contain the same basic structure. The length of study is 4 years; 2 years of basic science coursework and then 2 years of clinical rotations. Allopathic and osteopathic schools will require that you have fulfilled their GPA, MCAT, and science requirements for admission. Scores will vary by institution. The America Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) lists their data for incoming students and shows GPA scores for science, non-science, and overall. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) also displays this data and even shows it by the school with the purchase of a subscription. The mean GPA reported on these sites was around 3.5 for both types of schools. There are variations of these scores each year, but it is best to refer to the most recent year reported. MD schools have the reputation of higher scores and being more competitive than their osteopathic counterparts.

Both DOs and MDs emerge from med school prepared to begin residency (the exams may differ - this is discussed more below), and both kinds of doctor are fully licensed, practicing physicians. That is to say, though there is a difference in philosophy between them, osteopathic doctors are not "alternative" practitioners. They are able to practice, prescribe medicine, perform surgery, and otherwise perform the same medical duties as allopathic doctors. As such, the rigors of study are similar for each kind of medical program. 

DO vs MD: Application and Tuition Costs

Cost is a factor for applying and eventual tuition costs. AACOM and AAMC charge fees for the application process and charge for each additional application. Prices are similar in comparison and you can be expected to pay around $40-$50 per application after the initial sign up fee. Fee waiver programs are available through both AACOM and AAMC for students who qualify. 

Tuition costs depend on whether the institution is private or public and if you are a resident of that state. AAMC reports the mean costs here. Review our blog, is medical school worth it or do the costs outweigh the benefits? AACOM also displays tuition data for students here. Allopathic private school tuition ranges from lower teens to upwards of 60 thousand per year. Nonresidents of private allopathic schools will start around 30 thousand and their upper limit is similar to in-state residents. Public allopathic schools are between 30-50 thousand for residents and between 54-92 thousand for nonresidents.  

Osteopathic private schools are more numerous than public schools. The private DO schools range from 30 to upper 60s for both residents and nonresidents. The public osteopathic schools for residents range from low teens to mid-40s. Nonresidents at public DO schools can range from the high 20s to nearly 90 thousand. This makes the average cost of school for both MD and DO much closer than what it has been in past years. Many schools have similar costs but the most inexpensive reported was an osteopathic public school. Location is also a factor when choosing a school as cost of living expenses are higher in metropolitan areas. In general, allopathic schools are closer to cities than their osteopathic counterparts.


DO vs MD: Salary

Academics and cost aside, upon acceptance you will be working towards your medical degree. Upon completion of your degree, you will be able to obtain a license to work in any of the 50 states. Allopaths and osteopaths have the chance to enter the residency MATCH program, which is an algorithm that pairs students with perspective residency programs. MD and DO students have the ability to specialize in the field of their choice. Osteopathic students can apply to both allopathic and osteopathic residencies. You might be wondering if an MD makes more than a DO. Actually, they will both make the same amount in the same specialty. Allopathic doctors often choose specialties that pay higher which can make the data appear as though they make more. When you have 2 doctors, one MD one DO, that are both surgeons in the same program, they will make the same wage.

Osteopathic Medicine (DO) Overview

Osteopathic medicine is often explained as a holistic approach to medicine. This is often met with confused looks. What does that mean? Simply put it means that osteopathic doctors are trained to not only look at the illness at hand but other factors that might influence the course of the disease. They pay special attention to the patients’ environment and social condition. The DO will look at all body systems and see how they all work together to impact the picture of health. Osteopaths also learn a technique called osteopathic medical manipulation (OMM). It is a series of movements and manipulations to alleviate pain. DO students will learn this technique in addition to standard coursework. 

Applications to DO programs are often done via AACOMAS. In order to receive an osteopathic license students must take the COMLEX exams; if they want to enter the allopathic MATCH they must also take the USMLE exams. There are 39 osteopathic schools throughout the country and many reside in rural areas. Many DO students go on to study primary care, family medicine, or sports medicine in residency but can still have the opportunity to specialize however they choose. The Definitive Guide to the ERAS application will tell you everything you need to know about applying to residency in the US.

Thinking of applying to an Osteopathic Medicine program? Here's a great video that breaks down the application process:

Allopathic Medicine (MD) Overview

Allopathic medicine is a treatment-centered approach to medicine. First, find the disease and then prescribe a treatment or propose a solution like surgery. Allopathic medical schools number 151 in the United States and 17 in Canada. Students take the USMLE exams to obtain licensure and have the opportunity to specialize as they choose. MD schools are often in larger metropolitan cities and have the option of an MD/ Ph.D. track options for students. Research is a primary focus in MD schools as it upholds its evidence-based approach. Due to this combination of factors, allopathic doctors usually apply for more research dependent programs and competitive programs. Their match rates are higher than their DO counterparts in certain fields like dermatology and ophthalmology.

Follow this link for a list of the least competitive, easiest medical schools to get into, including both MD and DO programs.

If you're thinking of applying, check out our Medical School Application Timelines, with information for MD and DO programs, including those applying through AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS. You'll also find some AACOMAS personal statement examples and TMDSAS personal statement examples to help you craft a successful personal statement.

DO vs MD: Which is Better?

So with all the logistical knowledge out of the way, what does this mean to you? You are probably waiting for someone to tell you that one type of school is better than the other. So here it is…neither one is better! How can that be? For the sole reason that each offers medicine in 2 different approaches. They both will get you into the field of medicine. You will receive a quality education and the ability to obtain a license. Where they differ is you. What do you want out of your education? Why do you want to be a doctor? Does the problem-solving strategy of allopathic medicine speak to that inner trivia kid in you or does the hands-on OMM technique resonate with your holistic view of medicine? Can you see yourself leading a research team or do you dream of giving back to your local rural community? Look at this as an opportunity to customize your learning style with the type of school offered.

Our futures are an accumulation of choices. Deciding between osteopathic and allopathic schools is another choice towards your journey as a physician. There is no right or wrong choice. No school is better or worse than the other. There is only right for you and better for you. The answer to the age-old question, "How hard is it to get into medical school?" doesn't change based on whether you pursue an MD or DO degree. By now, one is probably resonating with you more than the other. Hopefully, it will be as easy a choice as your avocado toast in the morning. The good news is that no matter which one you choose, our admissions experts can help you get there.

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To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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