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Should I apply to DO schools? A Primer on Osteopathic Medical Schools

WHAT IS A DO/OSTEOPATHIC MEDICINE?

The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) defines osteopathic medicine as “a complete system of health care with a philosophy that combines the needs of the patient with the current practices of medicine”.  Essentially, it is a branch of medicine that emphasizes the treatment of medical disorders through medicine and manipulation of bones, joints, and muscles. The major differences between allopathic medicines (the name for graduates of MD programs) is the use of this manipulation, referred to as osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM).

WILL MY EDUCATION BE DIFFERENT?

Short answer is: no.  You will learn the medicine that your MD colleagues are also learning through courses such as biochemistry, physiology, pathophysiology, anatomy, and the like.  You will see patients and rotate through different specialties in the same manner.  You will take the same board exams which are based on the same material.

However, you will also learn skills that your MD colleagues will not in the realm of osteopathic manipulative medicine.

The principles of osteopathy

1. The body is completely united; the person is a fully integrated being of body, mind and spirit.

2. The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health-maintenance.

3. Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.

4. Rational treatment is based on an understanding of these three aforementioned principles.

A STATISTICAL COMPARISON

Let’s get the nitty gritty out of the way.  Everyone loves to talk numbers!

In 2017, matriculants to DO programs nationwide had an average MCAT score of 503.05 (58th percentile) and an average total GPA of 3.56.  Compare this to MD matriculants in the 2018-2019 cycle: average total GPA of 3.72 and average MCAT score of 511.2 (83rd percentile).  Those are definitely notable differences for applicants who may not be competitive for MD programs.

Now, how do they compare when it comes to residency placement?  In 2019, US seniors from allopathic (MD) medical schools had a match rate of 93.9% into a first year residency program.  2019 also marked the record for number of osteopathic (DO) applicants, number of DO applicants who matched, and match rate.  6,001 DO’s applied for first years positions and 5,076 matched, with a match rate of 84.6%.  That’s an excellent match rate.  Compare this to US citizens who are attending international medical schools (such as programs in the Caribbean) who had a match rate of 59.0%.  What’s even more impressive, DO applicants even had matches into classically competitive specialties including orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery, and dermatology.

SHOULD I APPLY TO DO PROGRAMS?

If the numbers above, don’t convince you, the short answer is: yes!  If your goal is to become a practicing physician in the United States, DO schools are an excellent route that often do not get the consideration they deserve.

Many applicants may be more attracted to the philosophy of osteopathic medicine after some research.  On the other hand, other applicants may only want to become a practicing physician but may not be statistically competitive for MD programs.  If you fall into either category, DO programs are becoming more popular, provide excellent training, and match well into residency.

WILL MY PRACTICE BE DIFFERENT?

Not really: you can choose how much OMM you want to use in your own personal practice.  You will see patients just like any other physician and prescribe medications in the same way.  Many DO physicians practice in the community, just like the majority of MDs. You are welcome to practice in academic medicine, in private practice, or any setting you wish.  

WHAT CAN I SPECIALIZE IN?

Anything you want! There’s no limitation.  However, many competitive specialties such as surgical subspecialties, dermatology, and radiation oncology match a larger proportion of MDs than DOs.  From the residency match data, you can see that DO applicants even matched into the most competitive specialties. If you’re committed to a certain specialty, it is certainly possible.  

If you choose internal medicine or pediatrics to start, you are welcome to pursue the same fellowships and subspecialize.

THE LOGISTICS: AACOMAS

The DO application is called AACOMAS instead of AMCAS.  The majority of the application is very similar: you’ll have space to enter your activities and write a personal statement.  The personal statement even has the same character limit as of 2019 (5300 characters).  However, when writing your personal statement you should answer “why osteopathic medicine” instead of just “why medicine”.  Check out our post on how to turn your AMCAS personal statement into your AACOMAS personal statement.

It is very important to shadow a DO physician if you plan on applying. Many schools actually require a letter of recommendation from a DO physician and others recommend it.  You will also get exposure to make sure this is the right fit for you.

LIST OF OSTEOPATHIC MEDICAL SCHOOLS

There are currently 35 accredited osteopathic medical schools which all can be found here. If you need help figuring out where exactly to apply, our advisors will create a personalized school list based on your preferences and competitiveness.