What does DO stand for? DO stands for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and practicing physicians 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. In this blog, we’ll learn more about osteopathic doctors, including the differences between DO vs MD, the education requirements for DOs, DO philosophy, and career outlook.

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9 min read

What Does DO Stand For? How to Become a DO How Do I Apply to DO Programs? DO Career Outlook and Salary Is a DO Program Right for Me? Should I see a DO or an MD? FAQs

What Does DO Stand For?

DO stands for Doctor of Osteopathic medicine. A DO is a type of professional degree someone earns when they complete a medical school curriculum at one of the osteopathic medical schools.

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. Similarly, there are top osteopathic schools in the DO school rankings.

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 make up over 11% of all doctors in the US. with almost 149,000 active DOs. 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 77% over the past 10 years?

More than 25% of medical students in the US are studying to be DOs!

What is Osteopathic Medicine?

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.

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.

How to Become a DO

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 77% and there are now over 186,000 DOs in the US. While DO schools are thought to be some of the easiest medical schools to get into, many osteopathic schools are tremendously competitive. In fact, DO school acceptance rates can be just as competitive as allopathic program acceptance rates.

1. Complete a DO program

Just like MDs, DOs begin their medical school application timeline 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, training in the tenets of osteopathic medicine and treatment. 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. 

2. Take the DO licensing exams

In order to practice medicine and proceed into residency training programs, DOs have to pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX Level 1, COMLEX Level 2 PE and COMLEX Level 2 CE). The COMLEX tests examines your 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 licensing exams, or the USMLE Step 1 and USMLE Step 2 CK.

3. Apply for residency as a DO

Graduates from DO schools will then participate in graduate medical training such as internships, residencies, and fellowships. This normally takes between four to eight years, depending on how long the residency is, meaning DOs can be fully trained and licensed after a total of 11-12 years.

Residency can be a competitive process, although MD match rates do tend to be higher than DO match rates in some specialties. If you attend one of the DO schools with the best match rates your chances of matching may a little higher than average, but keep in mind for the less DO-friendly specialties the competition will be tough.

Osteopaths have the option to apply to any residency program in any medical specialty, including some of the most competitive residencies, as long as they complete the necessary pre-residency exams. Once you’ve completed your residency as a DO, you can choose to find a job after residency or complete a medical fellowship and take further training in a medical subspecialty. Before you become fully licensed as a post-residency DO, you’ll also have to pass your COMLEX Level 3.

Here’s how to answer “why do you want to become a doctor?” during a medical school interview

How Do I Apply to DO Programs?

The DO school application process is very similar to the MD application journey. Instead of applying to medical schools through the AMCAS portal, you’ll use the one specifically for osteopathic medical schools: AACOMAS. To apply to DO schools, you’ll be required to meet all the DO school requirements, including the medical school GPA requirements and MCAT score requirements. 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.

  • Average Accepted GPA for DO applicants = 3.56
  • Average Accepted MCAT score for DO applicants = 503.8

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. These will usually be entered into your AACOMAS activities section.

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 the TMDSAS application system, which is used by several osteopathic medical schools in Texas. Be sure to check application deadlines, as they can 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

DO Career Outlook and Salary

If you are wondering what does DO stand for and search for how to become a DO, you must also be wondering what your future as a DO doctor looks like. Primary care is a major focus for osteopathic doctors with 57% of DO physicians choosing a primary care specialty. There are approximately 20.3% practicing in family medicine, 13.5% in internal medicine, and 5.3% 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 many of them choose to work within medically underserved areas and populations. Most Dos practice in clinics and hospitals, but some also work for the federal government and in outpatient care centers.

California, Pennsylvania and Florida have the highest percentage of active Dos followed closely by New York, Michigan and Texas. Interestingly, osteopathic medical training is not only growing across the US, but it’s also creating a younger cohort of doctors. In fact, 62% of all Dos that are actively practicing are under the age of 45.

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 the medical community.

The average wage for Dos is approximately $166,000 per year, with Dos and MDs making roughly the same amount of money in the same specialties. Allopathic doctors, however, often choose higher-paid specialties and have a higher match rate in specialties such as surgery and anesthesiology which is why the numbers, at times, appear skewed. So, while it may seem that Dos are not the highest paid doctors, the average wage depends more on your chosen specialty than whether you’re an allopathic or osteopathic practitioner.

Is becoming a DO the right path for you?

Is a DO Program 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 and what draws you to osteopathic medicine. Most DO schools will want to see that you have made the choice to pursue osteopathic medicine specifically, not just because it is perceived as “easier” than allopathic medicine. So in your DO school application materials and osteopathic medical school interview, be prepared to talk about why you want to be a DO physician specifically.

While some students knew they wanted to be a physician from the moment they put bandages 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.

When considering whether a DO or 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, 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. Shadowing experience can be a valuable step in immersing yourself in osteopathic medicine and learning more about the profession. ’Be sure to review how to ask to shadow a doctor and how many hours of shadowing are required for medical school.

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 understand what does DO stand for 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.

Should I see a DO or an MD?

As a patient looking for a physician, is it better to see a DO or an MD? Whether you’re searching for a family doctor or pediatrician, or you’re looking for surgeon or other type of medical specialist for a specific medical need, the truth is there is virtually no difference!

The differences between medical treatment from a DO and an MD are negligible. Both types of doctors receive similar training, although with a different focus for DOs. And both types undergo the same graduate medical training in a residency or fellowship program. When it comes to the quality and level of medical education, there is virtually no difference between the two.

In fact, it seems that most patients cannot tell the difference between treatment from a DO and treatment from an MD. A DO physician might just have a different approach to treating you and to medicine than an MD, such as asking you more questions about your lifestyle and overall health when making a diagnosis or making a health treatment plan that includes a holistic approach.

So, as a patient seeking treatment, there are no pros or cons to seeing a DO over an MD or vice versa. It may come down to who is available and whether your physician is a good fit for your healthcare needs.


1. What does DO stand for?

DO stands for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, and is one of the two possible professional degrees medical doctors can receive, the other being an MD or Doctor of Medicine (allopathic). 

2. 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 the MD competition pool is bigger.

3. 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”. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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 so applying to DO schools is not necessarily the easiest way to become a doctor. 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. 

9. Should I see a DO or MD?

As a patient, there is virtually no difference in seeing a DO or an MD physician. Both types of doctors receive almost the same education and training, so no matter what you’ll be receiving quality care. If you prefer a DO physician’s holistic approach to medicine and healthcare, you may prefer a DO physician to an MD, but the type of doctor you see may depend on availability.

To your success,

Your Friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting 

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