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DO vs. MD Degree: What’s the Difference?

Interested in becoming a doctor? You have a choice between two types of degrees: a DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine) degree or a MD (doctor of medicine) degree.

While many are more familiar with MDs, the number of practicing DOs has increased significantly over the past decade. According to AACOM, 25 percent of all U.S. medical students are currently enrolled at osteopathic medical colleges.

DO vs. MD Degree: Similarities

There are many similarities between DO and MD degrees:

DO and MD undergraduate prerequisites

As an undergraduate, prospective DO and MD students should:

  • complete a bachelor’s degree with a strong emphasis on coursework including chemistry, biology and physics.
  • take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), and;
  • prepare for the rigors of medical school with work/volunteer experience and applicable extracurricular activities.
DO and MD medical school

Most osteopathic (DO) and allopathic (MD) programs feature:

  • Stringent standards for admissions.
  • A competitive admissions process.
  • Four years of didactic and clinical training, followed by residencies.
  • Similar coursework including anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology and more.
  • Opportunities to complete dual degree programs.
DO and MD licensing and requirements

The licensing requirements for DOs and MDs are the same. 

  • Both can prescribe medication.
  • Both can practice in all 50 states.
  • Both can pursue all medical specialties.

DO vs. MD Degree: The DO Difference

While the degrees have much in common, there are several differences between DO and MD degrees:

DO philosophy

Doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) take a holistic approach to patient care in which the goal is to diagnose and treat the patient, not just the disease. This approach encompasses assessing lifestyle and being cognizant of how an injury or illness in one part of the body may cause symptoms in another.

OMM training

DO students complete additional training in osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM). DOs use OMM to assess the neuromusculoskeletal system and determine if osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) would benefit the patient. OMT can be used to address musculoskeletal pain, neural responses, circulation, respiration and immune response.

DO and MD residencies

DOs and MDs complete residencies following medical school training. As of July 2020, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and American Osteopathic Association (AOA) will transition to a single accreditation system. Residencies with an osteopathic focus will still exist, but will be open to DOs and MDs.

Though there will be a single accreditation system, DOs and MDs will continue to take separate board exams—COMLEX (Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States) for DOs and USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination) for MDs. Many DO students elect to take the USMLE in pursuing residencies. The need for this changed in late 2018 when the American Medical Association approved a resolution promoting the equal acceptance of both types of exams by residency program directors.

DO and MD career paths

DOs and MDs pursue specialties in all areas, but DOs tend to enter family medicine and primary care at a higher rate than MDs.

DO and MD salaries

Salaries for DOs and MDs are determined by a variety of factors including location, experience and specialty. For more information, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

Deciding Between a DO or MD Program

The osteopathic medicine approach—looking beyond the symptoms to treat the whole person—is a key factor for some students in deciding whether or not to pursue a DO vs. MD program. For others, factors such as cost, location, faculty, student life and class size may be more important. Visit our student stories page to learn why some of our osteopathic medical students chose PCOM.

 

Interested in Learning More About our DO Programs?

PCOM has been educating physicians in osteopathic medicine for more than a century. We are committed to fostering the growth of the osteopathic profession by training future healthcare leaders in osteopathic medical concepts and practice. Find out how you can join us on the forefront of healthcare.

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