What does DO stand for? Well, DO stands for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and individuals with this degree are physicians fully licensed to practice medicine. DOs take a holistic approach to medicine. Instead of concentrating solely on the symptoms of pain, illness or disease, they focus on the interrelationship between body systems, social, and environmental factors. If you're hoping to learn more about osteopathic doctors, including DO vs MD, the education requirements, philosophy, and career outlook of those with DO degrees, look no further.

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7 min read

What is osteopathic medicine? DO education Career outlook and salary How do I apply? Is a DO degree right for me? FAQs

What is osteopathic medicine?

Many people are familiar with allopathic medicine, those with MDs, as it's the more common doctoral degree of the two. Some of the most prestigious medical schools in the world are allopathic schools, including Ivy League medical schools and legendary institutions like Stanford medical school. You've likely noticed directory boards in a medical facility and upon closer inspection, you'll see the credentials following each person's name. In many cases, MD will be seen a lot more often than DO. While both DOs and MDs have near equivalent training, rights, and responsibilities, DOs only make up 11% of all doctors in the US. So, what is osteopathic medicine and why do students choose to pursue this field?

Did you know that the number of DO applicants in the US increased by 2.8% over the previous year?

Founded in the late 1800s by an American physician, Dr. Andrew Still, osteopathic medicine takes into account the interconnection between the body systems while approaching medicine holistically. Prevention is a large part of osteopathic medicine, and osteopaths consider lifestyle and environmental factors when treating patient symptoms. In addition to utilizing science and technology in practice, osteopaths complete specialized training to perform Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM) or treatment (OMT), which involves disease, pain, and illness treatment and prevention through physical manipulation. This hands-on technique can be used on its own, or in combination with drugs or surgery and focusses on the interconnectivity between the body's muscles, nerves, and bones. Osteopaths work to promote the body's innate, natural ability to heal and self-regulate. For this to happen, osteopaths believe that the fluids and liquids in the body, including blood, digestive secretions, and spinal fluid, must be able to circulate freely. Any obstructions in the form of curves, twists or misaligned tissues, bones or organs will impede this flow and for this reason, osteopaths will focus on treatment and manipulation of the body as a whole.

DOs are governed by The Tenets of Osteopathic Medicine which are used to express the philosophy behind osteopathic medicine. If you're applying to DO schools, you must understand these principles:

1. The body is a unit; the person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit.

2. The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health maintenance.

3. Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.

4. Rational treatment is based upon an understanding of the basic principles of body unity, self-regulation, and the interrelationship of structure and function.

DO Education

DO school rankings demonstrate that osteopathic medicine is growing in popularity across the United States. Roughly 1 in 4 medical students now train to become osteopathic physicians. In the past 10 years, the profession has grown 63% and there are now over 120,000 DOs in the US. While there are DO schools that are some of the easiest medical schools to get into, many osteopathic schools are tremendously competitive.

Just like MDs, DOs begin by completing their undergraduate studies before heading to medical school to complete their doctoral degree. They'll spend four years at an accredited college of osteopathic medicine and will then participate in internships, residencies, and fellowships. This normally takes between four to eight years, depending on the residency and fellowship length, allowing for fully trained DOs after a total of 8-12 years. In order to practice medicine and proceed into residency training programs, DOs have to pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX). The COMLEX tests examinees on their knowledge of osteopathic medicine, clinical skills, and other essential aspects required to practice as an osteopathic physician. This exam is very similar to the MD USMLE exams, which require the completion of three levels for full licensure.

Osteopaths have the option to apply to either allopathic or osteopathic residencies, including some of the most competitive residencies, as long as they complete the necessary pre-residency exams. There are 38 colleges of osteopathic medicine throughout the US across 33 states, so there are many opportunities for prospective students to complete the necessary training to become DOs. 

Career Outlook and Salary

Primary care is a major focus for osteopathic doctors with 31% practicing in family medicine, 18% in internal medicine, and nearly 7% in pediatrics. You'll notice that within the core values and mission statements at many osteopathic medical schools, the main goal is to produce excellent primary care physicians, which will help address the national deficit. There are, however, DOs practicing in a wide range of fields outside of primary care including emergency medicine, anesthesiology, obstetrics & gynecology, surgery, and even psychiatry. DOs practice across the US and Canada, with many choosing to live and work in the same communities they did their studies and training in. DOs have a large impact on the health and well being of US populations and approximately 20% work within medically underserved areas and populations. Pennsylvania and California have the highest percentage of active DOs followed closely by Florida, New York, and Michigan. Interestingly, osteopathic medical training is not only growing across the US, but it's also creating a younger cohort of doctors. In fact, 66% of all DOs that are actively practicing are under the age of 45.

Did you know that 20% of DO physicians work with medically underserved populations?

Most DOs practice in clinics and hospitals, but some also work for the federal government and in outpatient care centers. DOs graduate with all the skills and responsibilities of MDs, plus they possess approximately 200 hours of training in osteopathic manipulative medicine. The fact that DOs bring this patient-centered, whole-body approach to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment makes them valuable members of society. The mean wage for DOs is approximately $208,000, with DOs and MDs making roughly the same amount of money in the same specialties. Allopathic doctors, however, often choose higher-paid specialties such as surgery and anesthesiology which is why the numbers, at times, appear skewed.

How do I apply?

DO medical school acceptance rates show that applicants must meet many of the same medical school requirements as their MD counterparts. You'll be required to meet medical school GPA requirements, MCAT score, and CASPer score to be considered for admission. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), the average GPA and MCAT score for accepted students is 3.56 and 503.8 respectively.

In addition to having competitive grades and test scores, successful students must complete all necessary medical school prerequisites and application components. Check out medical school personal statement examplesAACOMAS personal statement examples, or TMDSAS personal statement examples to give you some ideas for your own essay. You should focus on making yourself a well-rounded applicant with thorough knowledge of osteopathic medicine, and demonstrated DO clinical experience, leadership skills, community service and extracurriculars for medical school.

If you want to pursue a DO degree, you'll complete one DO school application which will be sent to your chosen osteopathic medical schools through AACOMAS, the centralized application service in the US, or TMDSAS application system, which is used by several osteopathic medical schools in Texas. Be sure to check medical school application timelines as deadlines vary between schools, but generally primary applications are due between January and March and medical school secondary essays between March and April.

Just like MD applicants, DO candidates also go through a rigorous interview process, so make sure to get ready by reading some common medical school interview questions and MMI questions

Is a DO degree right for me?

To determine whether a DO degree is right for you, you should ask yourself why do you want to be a doctor. While some students knew they wanted to be a physician from the moment they put bandaids on their teddy bears, not everyone knows right away that they want to pursue medicine, let alone osteopathic vs allopathic medicine. For many, the initial interest in osteopathic medicine began through an encounter or experience with an osteopathic physician or discussions with a school's faculty member or current medical student. Osteopathic medicine is becoming increasingly popular as a career choice and every year the number of applicants applying to DO schools increases. In fact, last year, 21,584 applicants competed for 7672 seats at osteopathic medical schools, representing a 2.8% increase over the previous year.

When considering whether a DO vs MD degree is right for you, think about what it means to be a DO. Do your interests and passions line up with the principles of osteopathic medicine? Do you believe in treating patients holistically? Do you think of the body as being dynamic and interconnected with many factors? Does the OMM technique speak to you? Will you enjoy a patient-centered, hands-on approach to medicine? Just like becoming an MD, as a DO you'll be able to prescribe medicine, order tests and perform surgeries, so don't think that one pathway is better than the other or has different skills and responsibilities. DOs simply view aspects of medicine differently and strive to focus on the person, not the problem. So if you are invited to an osteopathic medical school interview, be prepared to talk about why you want to be a DO physician specifically.

So, when you're considering if it's best suited for you, spend some time reflecting and be sure to gain experience shadowing an osteopathic doctor. If you're wondering how to ask to shadow a doctor and how many hours of shadowing are required for medical school, review our blogs for everything you need to know. In addition to shadowing, engage in discussions with osteopathic doctors and medical students to gain more insight into the profession. Take any opportunities that come your way and be sure to source your own so you can learn as much as possible about the highlights and challenges an osteopathic doctor faces. Once you've done your research and have gained hands-on experience in the field of osteopathic medicine, you'll be on your way towards determining if the career is suited for you.

Watch a recap of this blog here:


1. Are DO programs easier to get into than MD programs?

Based on average GPA and MCAT scores of DO matriculants, osteopathic medical programs are slightly easier to get into. Statistics demonstrate that although the overall acceptance rate of MDs and DOs is about 40%, there are many more applicants to MD schools, which means that MD competition is more fierce.

2. What are the differences between DO and MD medical approaches?

The biggest difference between the two approaches is their philosophy. Allopathic medicine is what we have come to know as “Western medicine”. Generally speaking, allopathic medicine aims to eradicate illness or disease from otherwise healthy body. Osteopathic medicine focuses on the whole person, rather than a collection of body parts that may become injured or diseased and believes in the self-healing power of the human body. Osteopathic medicine tries to avoid any intrusion into the human body, focusing on preventative care.

3. Is there any difference in practice between DOs and MDs?

DO and MD physicians enjoy the same privileges and responsibilities. They can write prescriptions, order tests, etc. The majority of patients cannot tell the difference between DO and MD physicians.

4. Do DO physicians make less money than MDs?

Yes, according to statistics, DO physicians make slightly less money. Keep in mind that a doctor’s salary is heavily influenced by his or her specialty, i.e. radiology, plastic surgery, cardiology, and so on. With this said, MDs do earn a slightly higher salary on average, simply because more MDs go into higher-paid specialties compared with DOs. Trends show that DOs pursue primary care specialties with many practicing in rural areas.

5. Is medical school tuition less for DO programs?

DO and MD medical school tuition costs are similar. As usual, your tuition will differ based on your residency status (in-state or out-of-state) and whether the school is private or public.

6. Does having a DO limit my chances of matching with the residency program of my choice?

According to the latest statistics, DO graduates and seniors have lower success rates of matching compared to MD graduates for the majority of specialties. However, DOs are well represented in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and other primary care specialties. It is important to know what you’re up against, but you must also remember that many other factors affect your chances of matching: your exam scores, research experience, letters of recommendation, residency personal statement, and so on.

7. Is an MD degree better than a DO?

No, it is not better. Your choice between DO or MD will depend on your worldview and philosophical approach to medical care. All DO and MD schools are accredited and meet a high standard of education. While there is still a stigma with regards to osteopathic medicine, the growing popularity of DO programs in the US is likely to level the playing field between MDs and DOs in the near future. 

To your success,

Your Friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting 

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