“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.”
― Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less In a world of limitless options and never-ending choices, decision-making at key points in our lives and careers holds a great deal of importance. The path to medical school is no exception. At Med School Insiders, our goal is to distill the information that will allow you to make informed choices in these moments, intelligently and with the comfort of knowledge.
One such choice is whether or not to apply to osteopathic (DO) medical schools. Is it necessary? Are DO schools right for me?
What is Osteopathic Medicine?
Osteopathic medicine came into being in the late 19th
century as an alternative to allopathic (MD) medicine, under the ideology of Andrew Taylor Still. Its focus was, and remains to this day, a holistic approach to medical care including preventative medicine (medical care to prevent rather than treat medical disease). Today there are 34 accredited DO schools, comprising about 20% of currently enrolled US medical students
How do MD and DO programs differ?
MD and DO programs fundamentally differ in a couple of ways:
- Competitiveness of acceptance – DO programs have lower average MCAT and GPA scores than MD programs and are therefore considered less competitive to gain acceptance to. In 2015-2016, the average GPA and MCAT score for DO schools were 3.44 and 26.4, compared to 3.55 and 28.3 for MD schools.
- Educational focus – One unique aspect of DO schools is the focus on osteopathic manipulative medicine, or the practice of manual manipulation of muscles, bone, joints, etc. as a means of medical therapy. DO medical schools do teach modern medicine in the same way that MD schools do, but integrate these alternative educational aspects to create a slightly different therapeutic skillset.
How does attending a DO school affect my career prospects?
This is a fundamental question to be aware of, and in my opinion the key to making this decision. DO’s can practice medicine in all the same ways that MD’s can, without restriction.
They even practice alongside MD’s in many clinics and hospitals. I have personally worked with some outstanding DO’s. Thus, it is a misconception that their scope of practice differs from that of MD’s. With that said, attending a DO program does affect your chances of matching into residency in certain subspecialties. About half of DO students go on to practice primary care. These students can apply to other residencies in other specialties, but it is significantly harder to match into competitive residency programs and specialties as a DO than as an MD.
For example, many top internal medicine programs at which I interviewed historically do not accept DO applicants. Similarly, competitive specialties such as orthopedic surgery, head and neck surgery, plastic surgery, and dermatology (to name a few)
may be exceedingly difficult, even impossible, to match into from an osteopathic medical school. I would be aware of this fact when applying to schools. If you know that you are targeting one of these specialties or programs, perhaps DO is not the right fit for you!
How do I apply?
DO medical schools have a separate application service called AACOMAS. Similar to AMCAS for MD schools, it requires GPA, MCAT scores, letters of recommendation, personal statement, and extracurricular activities. See the AACOMAS website
for detailed information. Our Med School Insiders doctor advisors, with real admissions committee experience, can help you finesse your own AACOMAS application
to make it stand out from the crowd. You can learn more about how Med School Insiders can maximize your chances for admission to medical school here
Applying to DO programs is certainly something to consider, and can be a good fit for some applicants:
Beware of the risks
- Those interested in primary care or osteopathic manipulative medicine
- Those with GPA and/or MCAT score below the averages for MD programs
- Those with borderline qualifications looking for an added layer of comfort in their application school choices
of attending a DO program in regard to your chances of matching into competitive residency programs or specialties.
You have many important choices to make along the road to becoming a physician. Armed with this information, you will be able to choose wisely!