If you’re preparing to apply to a DO program, you may see the prompt, “why osteopathic medicine” for your secondary essay. You may already know the best osteopathic med schools to apply to, but in order to be considered for admission, you’ll need to prepare the best admissions essays! In this article, we’ll review why schools ask this secondary prompt, how you can structure your response, what information to include in your essay, and we’ll provide a few examples of essay responses that may help inspire your own.


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The practice and field of osteopathic medicine was founded in 1874 by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, who believed in the interconnectedness and relations between all organs, muscles and tissues within the entire body. Essentially, osteopathy as a field uses a whole-body approach to helping patients who suffer from pain, illness and other conditions. Even though osteopathy has been prevalent for some time, it is, at times, contested in the medical community, or regarded as being less credible than other medical sciences. This is untrue, as the practice of osteopathy is fueled by medical science, but osteopathic doctors keep optimal wellness at the forefront of their minds when approaching a patient, rather than relieving or treating a very specific symptom, such as joint pain from arthritis, with pain medication like a medical doctor might do.

The application process for osteopathy, as with any medical program, requires essays. Often, these essays will be personal in nature, and for osteopathic medicine specifically, admissions teams will be eager to read how each potential candidate describes their passion and experience related to osteopathy, and why they want to pursue it. That is why it’s important to know what to say, how to say it, and how to structure your essay well so that they admissions team won’t think twice about proceeding with your application for admission to their program.

“Why Osteopathic Medicine?", Why Do Schools Ask This Secondary Essay Prompt?

The question of "why osteopathic medicine?" is often asked as a secondary essay prompt because the field itself is relatively unique, and admissions teams want to know what motivates you to not only practice medicine, but to enter the very specific field of osteopathic medicine. While MDs (medical doctors) are trained in traditional allopathic medicine, DOs (doctors of osteopathic medicine) receive training in osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) and holistic care.

Despite both fields of medicine being science-based, the MD vs DO debate can get intense, and although it’s certainly not uncommon to have an interest in both fields, you’ll likely be able to understand—if you haven’t completely decided already— which type of medicine is more suited to you if you practice your responses to potential medical school interview questions, such as, “why do you want to become a doctor?” . Even though you’ve likely not been offered an interview yet, or perhaps you find yourself interested in a few fields of medicine, it’s a good idea to envision your potential responses prior to writing your essays, as you’ll want to be confident and genuine in your writing. There are, arguably, stark differences between the fields, but both MDs and DOs strive to help the patient and do no harm. However, while MDs tend to focus more on treating a specific ailment or injury, DOs believe in treating the patient and their body as a single unit. DOs tend to take a more preventative, holistic approach to medicine and believe in interconnectedness within the human body, while still practicing with science-based, proven tactics and approaches in mind.

Schools often ask “why osteopathic medicine” as a secondary essay prompt for applicants because they are looking to read a passionate and authentic response as to why each individual student hopes to pursue a career as a DO. This is a field that has faced backlash and is still contested by some other medical fields, so it’s important that DO programs admit only the most passionate, motivated and talented students. Your essay is a chance for you to prove yourself and share your interest and goals for your career in Osteopathic medicine.

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How to Best Answer and Structure Your Response

The best answers to this question will be a combination of your own personal story, as well as why you’re choosing to pursue a DO program. It’s crucial that you don’t simply recite a description of what osteopathic medicine is, because the admissions team already knows. Instead, you can explain that you know what osteopathic medicine is by tying the tenets of osteopathy to your own beliefs and experiences. Your response can draw on facts about MDs as well for the purpose of comparison as it relates to your choice, or, to show you understand the distinction between the two, such as:

  • "I want to become an osteopathic doctor because I believe that allopathic medicine is able to help many people who are experiencing pain or disease in a certain part of their body, but I firmly believe that many patients would benefit from alternative treatments, such as osteopathic manipulation and a whole-body approach to their care."
  • "I have always had an interest in medicine and healthcare, and I’ve been fortunate enough to shadow in several departments at the local hospital throughout my undergraduate degree, including emergency medicine, dietetics, and osteopathy. However, since I was young, I believed in treating the root-cause of an issue and preventing further discomfort and disease, and found myself questioning the common approaches in western medicine. While I greatly respect all medical fields, becoming an osteopathic physician was always something I wanted to do because I believe that the holistic approach, manual manipulations and preventative tactics used by osteopaths can help patients achieve optimal health, and this is something I’d be grateful to provide to as many people as I can in my lifetime."
  • "My family has been involved in the medical field for generations, so it's something I've always known about and respected. However, watching my aunt fight cancer, and witnessing how much her DO helped her recover and reclaim her physical strength an wellness after several rounds of chemo, is what really opened my eyes to the interconnectedness of the human nervous system and body. It made me greatly respect holistic approaches to medicine, so, for three years now I’ve known with certainty that I didn’t want to be an MD who treats a specific pain or illness, but a DO who can help patients prevent and treat a variety of whole-body issues and become well."

Your response must be authentic and convincing. By solely focussing on favoring holistic medicine over other fields, or by writing a weak, uninspired essay, you’re showing the admissions teams that you may not be the best fit for their DO program, either because your intentions aren’t clear, or you’re stuck on one premise.

To structure your essay in a way that flows well and offers a concise, but detailed response, you should aim to describe why osteopathic medicine is a good fit for you, and why you would make a great DO. You must also provide enough detail to convince the admissions team that you are capable and motivated…don’t simply promise them that you are, provide examples to back up your claim!

There are several medical school secondary essay prompts that are common, and many require a professional-yet-personal style of writing. Word counts can vary depending on your chosen institution, so it’s always best to double check what each individual application requires prior to writing. In general, most secondary essays require anywhere from 250-1000 words. This is a broad range, and that is why it’s crucial to ensure you follow the instructions set out by each institution carefully!

 Your essay should have a clear introduction, a few body paragraphs explaining why you’re interested in osteopathy above all else, a chronological detail of any relevant events that inspired you to pursue medicine and osteopathy, and a concluding paragraph that summarizes why you’d be a good fit. Finally, as with any and all admissions essays, steer clear of unusual fonts and formats. Keep it neat, legible, free of errors, and professional. Be sure to write several drafts, take your time, and even have your essay proofread by a trusted individual, or a medical school admissions consultant, should you require additional support.

When answering the secondary essay prompt “why osteopathic medicine”, you should structure your response to flow like this:

When you’re writing your essay, remember…

Oversharing is not advised, so, only detail relevant information that directly relates to your current path and desire to pursue osteopathy, and/or your journey and interest in the medical field in general. It’s also just as important to remember that scarce, bland details may hurt your chances of admission—the admissions team needs to sense your enthusiasm, professionalism and passion when they read your essay! So, do not simply state, “I heard about osteopathy a few months ago, and I like the idea of being a DO better than an MD because I teach yoga and love holistic medicine more the western medicine”, because this statement undermines the credibility of the profession as a field that relies on medical science, but it also makes the writer sound unenthusiastic, too impressionable, misinformed, and uninspired. Additionally, remember not to reiterate information that is on your medical student CV, as the purpose of this essay is to focus on why you are choosing a DO program, and why you think you’re a great candidate. You may mention a specific accomplishment or academic detail if necessary, but this is more of a personal essay.

"Why Osteopathic Medicine?” Sample Essay Answers

Sample 1, 500-700 Words

“Osteopathic medicine, and the philosophy driving it, completely aligns with my beliefs as an individual, and as a future doctor. Helping my patients achieve a state of wellness and approaching symptoms with the whole body in mind is the only way I can see myself practicing medicine, as I’ve seen first-hand how much of an impact osteopathy can make in a healing journey, as well as in a patient’s overall health. I’ve always admired health sciences and knew from a young age that I wanted to help others through medicine, but my ties to osteopathy have been bound for several years now, and I feel I have the right drive, determination, passion and curiosity to propel me forward down a successful academic and career path in osteopathic medicine.

My adoration for holistic medicine began as a young child, because I had so much experience in the medical system before I reached university, and I will always be grateful for the doctors who introduced wellness-oriented approaches to my care. Scoliosis, a C-shaped curvature of the spine, isn’t an uncommon disease, but it isn’t often that children are born with a severe curve and diagnosed as infants. Being regarded as a medical anomaly by surgeons and doctors and spending the first twelve years of my life in-and-out of an orthopaedic surgeon’s office at a hospital in Toronto meant that I got to connect with all kinds of medical staff—nurses, doctors, X-ray technicians, and other specialists—but when I wasn’t there, I spent time seeing my osteopath, my massage therapist, and my chiropractor. These wellness experts were the only ones who could ever help with my actual pain through manipulation and exercises, and helped me regain a bit of control with my body. The other practitioners simply monitored it and prescribed medication for pain. Then, as a young adult, I developed several other abnormalities, including advanced stage Endometriosis, that began to impact all of my organs. While my surgeon was certainly helpful in diagnosing the disease and removing what could be safely excised, my osteopath, and a few other holistic professionals, are the ones I credit with helping restore my physical strength. Living and managing several chronic conditions can be frustrating and I understand first-hand the negative impacts of ‘band aid solutions’, gaslighting, and misdiagnoses. I also understand suffering, and the importance of advocacy. That’s why when I returned to school to complete my undergraduate degree after taking some time off to recover from surgery, I did so with the determination to become an osteopathic doctor in mind. I knew then that my purpose here was not to be a patient, but to achieve excellent grades and admittance into the best DO program available so that I could be the advocate many patients need, and the one to help them feel relief and hope for the first time. I was lucky to be one of very few pre-meds students at X University to be able to shadow two DOs at X University Hospital last semester, and I spent my shadow sessions eagerly learning and understanding how the philosophy behind osteopathic medicine comes into play each day in a hospital setting. I enjoyed watching patients flourish and feel relief because of their OMM treatments.

I’m eager to learn and put into practice the OMM techniques that will help me diagnose, treat and prevent pain and illness in my future patients. I’m empathetic, but also extremely realistic and will keep a patient’s concerns, goals and best interests in mind each day while I learn and practice. Being confident in the benefits of osteopathic treatment, I would provide exceptional experiences to patients in every case and patient, but of course, I would take a special interest in unique cases, such as patients experiences chronic, undiagnosed or misdiagnosed conditions, and children. This type of passion, and approach, cannot be replicated in any other field of medicine, and that’s why I feel osteopathic medicine is the best fit for me, and that I would be an exceptional DO.”

Sample 2, 250-500 Words

“Osteopathic medicine has always been the clear choice for me, but it became a choice I was certain of two years ago. I have a fair share of medical professionals in my family, but growing up, I knew only of generic labels, such as ‘doctor’ and ‘nurse’ and ‘dentist’. When I finally discovered osteopathy, it was the most obvious “aha!’ moment I’d ever experienced. I’d always planned on pursuing medicine, but wasn’t sure what field of medicine would provide me with the patient-oriented, hands-on experience I was yearning for. Upon researching osteopathy, shadowing for a semester, an seeing first-hand how a phenomenal DO can change the patient experience, my heart was set.

As a teen, I’d thought physiotherapy or even an EMT career would be right for me, but my grades and determination to attend medical school continued to push me toward an MD program. When I was just about to enter my first year of university, my friend was paralyzed. He endured a rare form a stroke, and I watched him learn how to eat, speak, and breath again while simultaneously learning how to navigate life in a wheelchair. Several fantastic doctors saved his life, but a team of osteopaths at X University Hospital helped him begin to enjoy his life again. They approached his symptoms and state of being with great care and expertise, and they continue to keep his whole body in mind throughout his journey to wellness and comfortability. Attending several of his appointments with him, and later completing a semester of shadowing with the same osteopaths, showed me how much is possible, how much can be improved, and how patients can thrive with a holistic approach, even in dire situations. I have witnessed osteopathic doctors, in their own way, save the lives of patients too, by keeping wellness and interrelations at the forefront of their minds and practice. Improving somebody’s state of existence, helping them enjoy life again, and diagnosing and treating even the rarest symptoms and illnesses is what I look forward to doing most as a future DO.

To your DO program, and to my future patients, I bring with me intelligence in my respective field, as I have been awarded several kinesiology and exercise science awards from X University, phenomenal mentors in the osteopathic community I’ve acquired through my shadowing experience, an approachable, kind demeanor and most importantly, an incredible drive to help people and make a difference by utilizing my (future) OMM knowledge and expertise.”

FAQ

1. Is a DO program the same as an MD program?

No. Both are very well-respected areas of study in the medical field, however, MDs tend to focus on treating a very specific illness, injury or symptom when it is presented. MDs will focus on one problem at hand, and often refer the patient to a pharmacy for medication, or another specialist, once an emergency has been ruled out. DOs, however, hold a very different philosophy and approach health care from a wellness standpoint. This means that they utilize holistic tactics, such as manipulations (OMM) to treat the whole body of the patient and uncover the root cause/diagnosis, and/or contribute to restoring their wellness through movement.

2. Why do schools ask, “why osteopathic medicine?” as a secondary essay prompt?

Schools ask this question because osteopathic medicine requires a very specific mindset, and the beliefs and goals of each student must align with osteopathic principles. At times, osteopathy has been refuted by other medical fields because osteopaths approach problems by treating the whole body, and not solely the symptom itself. Osteopathy has been proven to improve patients lives and alleviate symptoms, such as chronic pain or bodily malfunction, but because ‘western medicine’ isn’t at the forefront of what they do, osteopaths, and future osteopathic doctors, must adhere to the field’s philosophy and holistic approach. Schools want to know what makes you a good candidate not just for a medical program, but specifically for osteopathy!

3. Should I mention the philosophy behind osteopathy in my essay?

Yes, but don’t simply reiterate the tenets and philosophy that you’ve read online! You may have heard the phrase, ‘actions speak louder than words’, or ‘show, don’t tell’ and this holds true in your essay! You should bring up key components of osteopathic practice and philosophy, and demonstrate why and how you connect with them based on your experiences and goals.

4. What other information should I include in my essay?

When answering this secondary essay prompt, it’s important that you craft your essay to be as authentic and personal as possible, while still remaining professional. Drawing on personal experiences that initiated your interest in the medical field, or specifically in osteopathy, is a great way to tell a chronological tale of how you came to be in the position you’re currently in…applying for a DO program! Essentially, you are telling the admissions team why you decided on osteopathy, and backing up your answer by sharing a relevant narrative and convincing them that you’re a great candidate.

5. How should I format and structure my essay?

As with all admissions essays, ensure that you use a professional font and that your essay follows and format specifications noted in your application instructions. As a best practice, if no specific instructions are given, you should use clear, professional fonts and refrain from including any colors or elaborate headers, titles, or fonts. Your essay should flow well and have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion that reiterates the information you’ve shared in the previous paragraphs. It’s advised to open your essay with a statement about why osteopathy appeals to you, perhaps mention a portion of the philosophy, and follow this with a body paragraph or two that focus on your story and personal ties to osteopathy. This could include shadowing sessions, academic experiences related to osteopathy, or something more personal.

6. How many words should this essay be?

Wordcount will vary by school, so it’s best that you double check each of your application requirements and instructions! Generally, secondary essays can be anywhere from 250-1000 words.

7. What should not be included in my essay?

First, it’s important that you do not simply regurgitate information about osteopathy you read online, as this can seem ingenuine and could also give the impression that you’re applying to several different programs on a whim, or new to the idea of pursuing osteopathy. Along with this state that you’re interested in attending a school or program because “it’s easier to be accepted” or “as a plan B”. Any portions of your essay that might make the admissions team think you aren’t motivated for the right reasons, or passionate about the field, may send your application into the rejection pile.

Along with this, it’s important that you aren’t too vague or too detailed. Try to keep your answers relevant, and don’t get too personal. Any details that are included must contribute to the overall purpose of the essay, which is to tell the admissions team why you’re choosing osteopathy and why you’re a good fit for the program. Details that can be found on your transcript or CV are not usually required in this type of essay, unless you plan on referring to one specific course experience that motivated you to pursue a career as a DO.

8. I need help with my osteopathic medicine application, where can I look for additional support?

If you’re looking to admissions consulting and support with interview preparation, essays, and other application materials, BeMo Academic Consulting can help. BeMo offers 1-on-1 consulting services that helps students in many fields, undergraduate, graduate, and professional fields, like medicine, prepare for their academic journey and careers.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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