One of the most common questions we get here is, “What is the difference between an MD and a DO?” Usually it is a bit of a task to answer this question without offending either side. From our perspective there really isn’t any major difference in practice rights, but the approach that each takes in treating patients and conditions may be quite different. Those who go to an allopathic medical school receive a MD or a Doctorate of Medicine, while those who attend an osteopathic medical school receive a DO or a Doctorate of Osteopathic medicine. In this post we will try to compare both pathways.
In order to get into either a DO or and MD school you have to take the MCAT, and in most cases meet the same basic prerequisites (Chemistry, Organic, Physics, etc.). Some people suggest that gaining acceptance to DO schools is slightly easier on a numbers basis than MD schools, this is true to an extent, but the grades required for both are fairly competitive, the average MCAT score and GPA are slightly lower for DO schools than for MD schools. One of the reasons behind this is that DO schools tend to look at the whole person application more often than many other schools, and receive a lot more non-traditional applicants. For MD schools you fill out the AMCAS, while for DO school you fill out the AACOMAS, the process is fairly similar with essays and interviews.
The main difference between MDs and DOs is during the medical school years, both attend medical school for 4 years with 2 years of basic sciences and 2 years of clinical rotations. The key differences are in teaching styles and focus during medical school. Osteopathic schools tend to instruct students to look at the whole patient, rather than the diseased part. In the past this used to be a major difference between osteopathic and allopathic programs, now we are seeing more and more allopathic programs teaching a similar philosophy. DO students are also instructed in osteopathic medical treatment (OMT), this is similar to manipulation that one can often find being practiced by a chiropractor. Not all osteopathic physicians use OMT in their practice though. Some allopathic schools have now started offering OMT courses as electives. The MD student will pass the USMLE while the DO student will pass the COMLEX, DO students can choose to take the USMLE and apply into allopathic residencies while allopathic students cannot take the COMLEX and apply into osteopathic residencies.
Both physicians are permitted and qualified to provide surgical services, as well as other medical treatments and procedures. DOs have usually received extra training in the musculoskeletal system and its impact on the body, and as mentioned before would be more likely to take the whole body into consideration. MDs have a history of leaning more towards traditional and technology based medicine, while DOs have the same training but also learn about alternative therapies such as massage therapy and herbal medicine. The MD is allowed to practice in all countries, the DO was formerly limited to practicing only in the United States but now they may practice in 45 different countries.
A MD is a physician that went to an allopathic medical school and received a Doctorate of Medicine, they are more likely to focus on the symptomatic parts, and use traditional and technology based medicine, they also must pass the USMLE. A DO is a physician that went to an osteopathic medical school and received a Doctorate of Osteopathic medicine, they are more likely to focus on the whole body, and use alternative treatments, DOs are also trained in OMT, they must pass the COMLEX but can also take the USMLE and apply to allopathic residencies.
What are your thoughts; let us know in the comments. If you think we missed anything please let us know either in the comments or through the contact form.