March 19, 2020
Choosing Medical Schools

Should I Apply to MD or DO Schools? Here's Why You Should Apply to Both

Ryan Karmouta MD, MBA

How do I know if I should apply to MD schools, DO schools, or both?

Different applicants have different strategies when applying to medical school depending on different factors including:

  1. Their “numbers” (MCAT and GPA)
  2. Their self-perceived competitiveness
  3. Advice from their pre-health committee
  4. Advice from consultants, family, and friends

Applicants have three choices of application strategies, if they want to go to a U.S. medical school:

  1. Apply to MD schools ONLY
  2. Apply to DO schools ONLY
  3. Apply to both

Why you should apply to both MD and DO schools: 

For some reason, applicants feel the pressure to choose applying to either an MD or a DO school. They rarely consider applying to both, when the truth is you should probably apply to both if you want to maximize your chances of getting into medical school. It is better to have more acceptances the first time around, than to have no acceptances and face having to re-apply to medical school. According to US News, the costs of applying to medical school for an applicant who is applying to 15 medical schools can be over $10,000. It will be more cost effective in the long run if you apply to both MD and DO schools and get into a medical school the first time vs. applying to only MD schools and risk having to spend thousands of dollars re-applying. There is also an opportunity cost to delaying your medical career by another year. According to the Medscape Physician Compensation Report, the average physician salary in 2019 is $313,000. Having to reapply means delaying your medical career by another year, which is a significant opportunity cost. Although applying to both MD and DO schools may mean more work and investment up front, it may save you in the long run. 

Facts about applying to MD vs DO schools:

FACT 1 MD VS DO:

DO schools accept applicants with lower average GPA and MCAT scores than MD schools. According to AACOM, the average undergraduate GPA of DO matriculants are 3.54 and the average MCAT score is 503. The average GPA and MCAT scores for MD matriculants are 3.7 and 512. 
If your GPA is within the 3.3 to 3.7 range and your MCAT scores within the 500 to 506 range, you should consider applying to DO programs as well. These numbers are rules of thumbs and your advisor or counselor may have slightly different numbers, but those ranges are good starting points.There are 36 accredited DO schools in the United States and by applying to just ⅓ of those schools (12 schools), you are increasing your number of schools and chances of being accepted into medical school vs. if you just applied to MD schools.

 

FACT 2 MD VS DO:

According to AMA, 57% of DOs practice in primary care as family physicians or internists. By comparison, about 32% of MDs practice in primary care specialties. 
If you choose a DO school, you are about twice as likely to be practicing in primary care vs. a specialty. If you are interested in primary care, such as internal medicine, family medicine, or pediatrics, then it becomes less important whether you go to an MD or DO school. In that case, you should consider applying to DO programs as well to increase your chances of getting into medical school.
What if I am interested in primary care but I don’t want to be limited to primary care if I get into a DO school? DOs also match into specialty residency programs as well, and have over 80% match rate in specialties such as anesthesiology, radiology, and emergency medicine. Although DOs are more likely to practice within primary care, this doesn’t mean they are not able to do other specialties. 
Don’t let the rumors that you hear about DOs only doing primary care keep you from considering DO schools. You need to get into medical school first before even considering a specialty. If it makes sense for you to apply to DO schools based on your “numbers,” pre-health advising, and consultants, then make decisions that can set you up for success now. Give yourself the best chance of getting into medical school by also applying to DO schools.


FACT 3 MD VS DO:

DOs and MDs are paid the same within the same specialty.
Some people think just because you are a DO you make less of a salary than an MD. This is not true. DOs salary is no less than an MDs salary because salary is based primarily on a physician’s field of specialty. If an MD and DO were both practicing primary care with all things equal, they both would have the same salary. If an MD and DO were both practicing anesthesiology with all things equal, they both would have the same salary. The reason why people think DOs are paid less than MDs is because DOs are more likely to practice in primary care settings, and primary care physicians are compensated less than specialists. Based on Medscape Physician Compensation, primary care physicians make $195,000 and specialists make $284,000. 
Going to a DO school does not mean a salary limit because of your credentials. Although salary is not the reason most of us go into medicine, financial stability is an important consideration when deciding to go into medicine. According to Kaplan, a medical school education can cost over $200,000. Salary is based mostly on specialty and not on whether you have an MD or DO by the end of your name. Do not let this myth that DOs earn less than MDs be a primary reason why you do not apply to DO schools. DOs can practice in any medical specialty, be paid the same working the same specialties as MDs, and be licensed to work in all 50 states as a physician. 


Key Take-away Points:

Education and training between MDs and DOs are for the most part equivalent. Although there are still some gaps in reputation and residency opportunities, great efforts have been made to decrease the gaps and that trend will continue. At the end of the day, the title does not make the physician. I have worked with really great MD physicians and really great DO physicians and in the same vein, not so great MD physicians and not so great DO physicians. You do not have to choose going to an MD or DO school right now in your application process. It might be smarter to apply to both MD and DO schools and have acceptances to choose from than to choose to apply to only MD schools and have to reapply next year. 

When you are making the decision of whether to apply to MD, DO, or both, assess information based on what are facts (what numbers and charts tell you), what are misinformation (DOs get paid less than MDs), and what makes the most sense for you right now. Based on your MCAT and GPA, competitiveness, and advice you have heard, maybe including DO schools in your application strategy is what makes sense for you right now.

At the end of the day, the two letters at the end of your name makes little difference in how you treat, diagnose, and support your patients. When you walk into the room with your patients, you are their physician. But getting into medical school is the first step to becoming their physician. 

Making the decision to apply to MD schools or DO schools or both can be tough. AcceptMed can help you with your decision process and figure out which option is best for you.