If you’re a high school senior looking to embark upon the rigorous premed path to fulfill your dream of becoming a physician, you should be aware that you can pursue two different degrees to practice medicine: M.D., or Medical Doctor, and D.O., or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine.
The key difference between an MD degree and a DO degree stems from the philosophy that each form of medical education is built upon. MD’s, practicing allopathic medicine, focus on the diagnosis and treatment of disease. DO’s, practicing osteopathic medicine, place a greater emphasis on the mind-body-spirit and the body’s capacity to naturally heal itself. Both can pursue the same specialties, but the main difference in training is that DO’s receive supplementary certification for Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment, a hands-on modality of diagnosis and treatment. That said, both routes create equally capable physicians, though this fact is subjectively challenged by both MDs and DOs.
What are BS/DO and BS/MD Programs?
Today, undergraduate universities offer both BS/MD and BS/DO programs, direct medical programs that provide high school students with the assurance of a reserved medical school seat following one’s undergraduate years. These programs range from 6-8 years in length, with four years in medical school and 2-4 years in undergraduate school. BS/MD programs are significantly more difficult to get into than BS/DO programs, oftentimes taking no more than 10 students, and their respective institutions are significantly higher ranked than those with BS/DO programs. BS/DO programs admit a much higher volume of students and have lower academic requirements for admission – that said, it is far easier to be admitted into a BS/DO program.
Intelligent high school students that are qualified for both programs often overlook the prospect of attending a BS/DO program for one major reason: with a shot at being accepted by a BS/MD program, these students oftentimes believe they are too qualified to pursue the DO route. They’d rather face rejection from BS/MD programs, take on student debt, and face greater stress through premed at a top institute than pursue the BS/DO route. And if this isn’t the case, they take the BS/MD admission and are confined to that institute for the next 6-8 years.
I argue the BS/DO route is a strong option if you are interested in becoming a doctor, whether an MD or DO.
Why BS/DO Programs Provide a Strong Route for Future DOs (and MDs)
Though both MD and DO degrees allow you to pursue the same specialties, the frequency of MDs and DOs in each varies, leaving your specialty interest worthy of consideration. If you are set on specialties such as family medicine, general internal medicine, or general pediatrics, then DO schools are highly suitable for your goals. If you are unsure of the medical profession you want to pursue, or if you are set on highly competitive specialties, then MD schools may be more suitable for you.
Regardless, BS/DO Programs can support students pursuing either route by providing a direct means of becoming a DO, as well as an indirect means of becoming an MD.
The latter is possible because unlike many BS/MD programs, BS/DO programs oftentimes allow students to apply out to other medical schools without sacrificing the assured medical school seat that comes with admission. This means that by enrolling in a BS/DO program, you can pursue premed with a backup medical school seat and dedicate yourself to making it to a top graduate school. This circumstance – a guaranteed means of becoming a doctor (as long as the relatively low bar for matriculation prerequisites are met) – can significantly alleviate otherwise elevated levels of stress in a premed, potentially resulting in enhanced academic performance.
The environment of BS/DO schools may also produce a stronger medical school application than the application that would result from 4 years at a highly ranked university. Below, I’ll explain why.
The most important objective measures to your medical school application are your grades and MCAT, not the ranking of your undergraduate institution. Unless you are aiming for elite medical schools, which consider the reputation of your undergraduate school to a greater degree, your key priorities are your GPA and your MCAT. Top universities are reputable for creating highly rigorous academic environments, where achieving high grades is difficult, no matter the depth of your understanding. Your peers are aggressively driven and equally intelligent, so earning that set of clean A’s throughout your premed career won’t come easy.
In contrast, the undergraduate schools for BS/DO programs have lower rankings and are not designed to create this caliber of intellectual rigor. Instead, they are designed to provide a quality premed education and usually have a smaller student body, creating a scene where academic success is more achievable for premeds. This doesn’t mean the premed route is far easier in such programs – success will still require a meticulous work ethic. But overall, a high GPA is more achievable in a BS/DO Program than at a Top University.
Now you may be questioning whether the high GPA translates to the same degree of understanding in your coursework. Assuming you bring to the BS/DO Program the same deep, concerted level of effort that you would to a top university, you can shape your foundation to be just as refined as it would be elsewhere. Though the professors will lack the esteemed reputation of those at top schools, you have access to similar (if not the same) textbooks, an entire department of other quality professors, and the internet at your fingertips. When supplementing hard work with enough test preparation, achieving a top MCAT score is just as achievable at a BS/DO program compared to a top university. This stems from the fact that these are established medical programs meant to provide you with the premed background necessary to succeed in the affiliated medical school.
Small Student Body
The student body at BS/DO institutions is generally small and is not composed of highly ambitious, cutthroat, and competitive gunners. The latter is the case for two reasons: firstly, the smaller student body directly results in a lower quantity of ambitious students; secondly, many of the students in the program intend to matriculate into the DO school and have relinquished the aggressive level of ambition that is found in premed students elsewhere. With this being the case, professional opportunities at BS/DO schools are easier to grasp, and building relationships with professors is manageable.
It is worth noting that top institutions may have a higher volume of opportunities, many of which may be richer in quality, but with the sheer size of the student body and the drive that is ingrained in each student, acquiring such opportunities may be a challenge. BS/DO programs come with medical school accessibility through which graduate-level opportunities can be found, mitigating this loss to some extent – more on this below.
With a smaller student body, the “weed out” courses you find at top institutions with 500+ student lectures are just regular courses at BS/DO schools. Teachers are less likely to have a quota on the number of A’s they can give, creating an atmosphere for a more relaxed curve. Complementing this factor is the fact that there are less highly competitive students, yielding even better expectations for the curve while also making relationship building more manageable.
Medical School Accessibility
BS/DO programs oftentimes have their medical school on the very same campus as the undergraduate school. By pursuing the BS/DO route over four years at a top institute, you have access to medical school resources. This means that you can get involved in medical projects or conduct research at the same standard that medical students are engaged in. In other words, with access to a medical school, you have a means of refining your resume and crafting a graduate-level research skill set. As previously mentioned, top institutions may have more opportunities as well as opportunities of greater quality – however, the medical school accessibility alleviates this loss to some extent by providing graduate-level opportunities. That said, you would have to put in a great deal of work to acquire such options, but they are available.
Schools with BS/DO programs provide huge scholarships to strong students. At a top institute, whether for premed or a BS/MD program, you may be responsible for covering upwards of $50,000 a year even if your stats prove that you are intelligent and driven. With BS/DO programs having a smaller student body and lower average statistics, your merit is recognized to a greater degree. If you apply to a BS/DO program with statistics that leave you worthy of consideration for BS/MD programs, your hard work will be recognized, and you may be gifted with a huge scholarship. Enroll, and you can achieve a quality education and progress professionally without collecting massive student debt.
It is important to recognize why BS/MD programs exist: with incredibly high standards for admission, these schools recognize that you have the potential to make it to top medical institutions. On a surface level, the reserved medical school seat that comes with admission provides great relief. On a deeper level, however, it can be seen that BS/MD programs create a personal and financial cost for the student: in addition to the $50k+ that one has to pay for the next 6-8 years, the degree and education are limited to that one institute when the student may have the potential to go much further. Most BS/MD programs are not top 30 medical schools, and by taking students with the potential to be admitted into top medical schools, the students face an opportunity cost. However, in BS/DO programs, where you are allowed to apply out in addition to having the reserved medical school seat, your potential is not confined to the school. You can employ the BS/DO program as a safeguard while setting yourself up for more prestigious acceptances than the BS/MD program you may have to turn down.
If you want to become a physician, consider the advantages of a BS/DO program whether to become a DO physician or to use the program to set yourself up for an MD admission. I understand that to be admitted into a top institution or a BS/MD program is especially challenging and commendable. But by attending a BS/DO program, you can work towards your goal of becoming a physician with limited student debt and potential unbound. Cumulatively, this can result in your matriculation into the DO school, or admissions into other medical schools (MD included). Underlying this is the relieved stress that comes with the reserved DO seat and minimal cost, resulting in a more positive undergraduate experience.
Whether you intend to pursue the BS/DO, BS/MD, or 4-year premed route to become a physician, you will have to sacrifice an abundance of time and absorb information like a sponge for years. However, don’t overlook BS/DO Programs as a result of their lower rankings – the environment that encapsulates such programs can incubate premed success and set you up to become a physician.