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MD vs DO: Which 'Doctor' is Right for You

Updated: Apr 25, 2021

by Daniela G.

When you first become interested in the medical field, the main career pathway people recognize is doctor. You see the letters “M.D.” after a person’s name and immediately recognize them as being a doctor. But there is another type of doctor that trains in a different specialty of medicine, a “D.O.” or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, as opposed to Doctor of Allopathic Medicine aka “M.D.”. Not a lot of people know the differences between these two types of doctors, but knowing the specialties of each can help a pre-med find out which one fits their skills and passions better. Today, we will dive into the main differences and some similarities between MDs and DOs, and help you figure out which one is best for you.

Getting In: Generally, both allopathic and osteopathic programs require the same prerequisite classes. The main classes are biology, chemistry, physics, and math. Each school varies in how many hours of each course and what other courses they want you to take beforehand, so it is important to research the schools you intend to apply to beforehand. Another requirement for admission into medical school is a high MCAT score. The Association of American Medical Colleges reported that the average scores on the MCAT for applicants who were accepted to allopathic medical schools for the 2018–19 school year was a 511.2 and the average GPA was a 3.72. Comparatively, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine reported that students coming from a bachelor’s program averaged an MCAT score of 503.8 and a GPA of 3.54. When comparing the averages between average allopathic and osteopathic scores and GPAs, one notices that allopathic averages are higher.

While both programs require hard work before and during their programs, it is harder to get into an allopathic program than it is to get into an osteopathic program. Keeping your GPA up and studying hard for the MCAT helps you to get into the program you most desire. If you need any tips on how to study for the MCAT, check out our other blog, How to Study for the MCAT on the MCAT101 page.

The Philosophies: While both programs teach students the foundational principles to become an effective doctor, they have different philosophies on how the body works and how to treat illness. For allopathic medicine, medication and a scientific approach is used to combat disease and help a patient get better. Osteopathic medicine, on the other hand, treats patients as a whole and emphasizes prevention against disease. DOs want their patients to develop a lifestyle of wellness and health which helps to keep the whole body healthy and prevents disease from occuring. MDs focus on treating the illness or pain at hand with different medications and therapies, their goal being an effective recovery with as little side effects as possible.

The Programs: Both allopathic and osteopathic programs use scientific approaches to helping patients and counteracting disease. Both teach how medication can help with fighting illness and train students in diagnosis, surgery, and treatment. At the end of both programs, MDs and DOs both are licensed by the same state licensing board. The difference comes with osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT, which is a curriculum specific to osteopathic schools. OMT is a hands-on approach to diagnosis and treatment where a DO uses a set of techniques to manipulate the patient’s joints and muscles through stretching, resistance, and use of pressure. DO students are required to complete an additional 200 hours of learning OMT along with the general coursework that comes with medical school. This training further teaches DOs how the body is an interconnected unit and how one part of the body can affect another. Through this unique approach to diagnosis and treatment, DOs bring another dimension to our understanding of medicine and standard medical care.

Licensing and Residency Options: Another difference between the DO and MD tracks are the licensing exams they each have to take. MDs are required to take the USMLE series while the DOs are required to take the COMLEX series. Both sets of exams are three-step series and are taken in the same timelines, the first one being near the end of the second year of medical school, the second sometime during the fourth year, and the final one after the first year of residency. Each set of exams allows doctors to choose from separate pools of residency options. Due to this, some DOs decide to take the USMLE so they can pursue a residency in that pool. But in July 020, there was a move to a “single graduate medical education accreditation system”, which basically means all graduated medical students, MD or DO, can choose from the same pool of residency programs. One important note to make is that 91.8% MD seniors matched into their preferred specialty while 82.6% of DO seniors matched with their preferred specialty. Due to the merger, the competition is no longer between MDs with themselves and DOs with themselves but between MDs and DOs. This may be a disadvantageous to weaker DO students, but only time will tell.

Salary Comparison: Allopathic doctors and osteopathic doctors make comparable salaries, and salaries vary by experience, location, and company. But on average, MDs make a salary of $201,918 in the U.S while DOs make a salary of $163,908. The reasons MDs earn slightly more than DOs are specialization and location. DOs usually do not specialize and tend to enter family practice or become general practitioners, while MDs specialize in fields of medicine which earn significantly higher than family doctors or GPs. Specialized fields tend to be located primarily in urban areas, and in order to pay for the high cost of living, MDs work higher paying jobs in big hospitals. DOs tend to live in rural areas where there is a low cost of living as well as a lower salary from being a GP or family doctor. Most DOs go into primary care, but there have been a portion of DOs that pursue and attain residencies in dermatology, radiology, and other well paying specialties. In these cases, DOs are able to make as much as, and sometimes more than, MDs do. This takes a lot of hard work as it is harder for DOs to get into their desired residency, as they may be competing with MDs, but with a lot of hard work, it can and has been done.

In Closing: MD or DO, a doctor’s work is grueling, almost never ending, but also very fulfilling. Getting to that ultimate goal takes many years of hard work and determination, whether you choose to pursue allopathic training or osteopathic training. Before you embark on the journey towards a career as a doctor, you should do your research, see what characteristics and skills make a doctor special, see if it this path is right for you, and then get ready for some hard work, knowing that the end goal of helping people in their time of need is worth it. Reference:

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