Dr. Robert Cain, president & CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), joined MedSchoolCoach founder, Dr. Sahil Mehta, and Ragav Sharma, a 4th year osteopathic student, to discuss the latest media hype surrounding osteopathic medicine, including the value of an MD vs. DO degree.
On one hand, both presidential candidates have a DO as their primary physician – President Trump with Dr. Sean Conley DO, and Vice President Biden with Dr. Kevin O’Connor DO.
On the other hand, a prominent physician clothing company, FIGS, is accused of publishing disparaging advertisements towards DOs and female physicians – which caused quite an uproar on social media. Add to this that medical television shows, like Grey’s Anatomy, always refer to doctors with an “MD” and not a “DO.”
So why does there seem to be this tug of war between the two? What is the difference between a DO and an MD? Is one practice better?
We get to the bottom of this with the president of American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), the organization that supports the 37 accredited colleges of osteopathic medicine in the United States.
There is no practical difference between osteopathic doctors (DOs) and allopathic doctors (MDs) they are both licensed to practice medicine in the United States. MD and DO students take up the same subjects, with the exception of biomechanics, which is emphasized more in DO education. In addition, osteopathic medicine emphasizes training students to become physician-servants, and orientation that influences the practice of medicine. Medical students should consider what type of physician they’d like to be before deciding on an MD or DO degree.
Dr. Cain likes to think of MD and DO doctors as complementary to one another. With the US’s complex healthcare system, cooperation between MD and DO doctors is crucial to improving the lives of more patients. When it comes down to it, both types of doctors are working towards the same goal of progressing healthcare.
Osteopathy was introduced to Ragav, a fourth year med student, by his father, who knew that his son had an interest in muscoloskeletal medicine. Ragav proceeded to apply to both DO and MD medical schools. Eventually, he chose to go to Midwestern University Chicago to pursue Osteopathic Medicine. He believes the holistic philosophy and the manual medicine training from a DO education will supplement his skillset as a future practitioner of musculoskeletal medicine.
To this day, Dr. Cain still applies his DO training in the field of pulmonology. Not many people may know this, but the respiratory system is biomechanical. He cites exacerbated chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as an example. Patients with this condition have an increased work of breathing. As a DO physician, Dr. Cain prescribes medicine to relieve symptoms but he also checks for changes in the chest wall, since removing any obstructions will decrease the likelihood of respiratory failure.
Ragav also mentions an instance where he was able to apply of his osteopathy knowledge. He encountered a stroke patient who could not breathe well during his in-patient rehab rotation. He suspected that the patient’s lung muscles have not fully recovered from the stroke, which made breathing more difficult. As a result of his suggestion, treatment changes were made to include more respiratory therapy and to shift bed positioning. Ragav’s osteopathic training led him to make a suggestion which ultimately made a difference in the patient’s outcome.
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Ragav’s advice to fellow students is to focus on things you can control such as board scores, clinical rotation performance, and capacity for learning. As long as you put in your best efforts you are setting yourself up to succeed. Keep working hard towards the chosen field you have in mind. It’s also helpful to be aware of specializations that have a preference for DO over MD students and vice versa.
The content in both licensure exams are similar, but the questions are posed differently. To save on time, you may study for the USMLE and the COMLEX with the same resources. The main difference between the two is that the COMLEX also covers osteopathic medicine. DO students should use osteopathy’s holistic philosophy as a lens when answering questions on the test. For additional preparation, look for reviewer questions that mimic the COMLEX’s questions.
With the merger of the MD and DO education programs, AACOM hopes to ease the matching system for students and their chosen residencies, and simplify the licensure exams for DO students. It is also the AACOM’s goal to eliminate the need for DO students take the USMLE because a specialization requires them to do so. Another challenge that DO students face are the restrictive regulations for shadowing experiences. The AACOM recognizes this, and is already looking for alternative ways to increase exposure to osteopathy.
Recent developments and events have increased the visibility of osteopathic medicine more than ever. This is an opportunity to solidify osteopathy in US healthcare system. Dr. Cain hopes to see increased interest and acceptance of osteopathic medicine through ongoing education and awareness efforts of the AACOM.
Interested in an osteopathic profession? Visit the Choose DO website for a list of schools offering a DO program.
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