MD vs. DO: What’s The Difference + How To Choose

MD vs. DO: What’s The Difference + How To Choose

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Posted in: Applying to Medical School

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When you apply to medical school, you may apply to both DO and MD schools.  DO vs. MD: A DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) and an MD (Doctor of Medicine) approach treatment, education, and medical training differently. They also have different types of licensing exams. In either program, you will be able to be fully licensed, qualified to practice medicine, and provide patient care. Allopathic and osteopathic programs simply differ in their schools of thought. 

What is the difference between an MD and a DO?

The difference between an MDs and a DOs is their philosophical approach to patient care.  MDs practice allopathic medicine, the classical form of medicine focused on diagnosing and treating human diseases.  DOs follow a more holistic approach, viewing the body as an interconnected system and focusing on preventive care. They also receive additional training in osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM), a hands-on treatment used to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury. The main areas where these two programs differ include:
  • Medical school applications
  • Philosophy of practice
  • Treatment approach
  • Training
  • Licensing exams
  • Residency applications
MDs and DOs providers are both well-educated, trained healthcare professionals. They can prescribe medication, diagnose and treat illnesses, and perform surgery in the United States.

Med School Application Process Differences

When pre-meds apply to med school, prospective MD and DO students face similar requirements. They must have a bachelor’s degree and have completed specific prerequisite coursework. Both MD programs and osteopathic schools require the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) too.

However, average GPA and MCAT scores can vary between allopathic medical schools (MD programs) and osteopathic medical schools (DO programs). Typically, MD schools have higher average GPA and average MCAT requirements than DO schools.

Applying to medical school in the United States typically involves one of two primary application services:

  • AMCAS (American Medical Colleges Application Service) for allopathic (MD) programs
  • AACOMAS (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service) for osteopathic (DO) programs

Please note: Medical students applying to schools in Texas will also need to use the Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Services (TMDSAS).

Similarities Between DO vs. MD Applications

Use this quick guide to check character lengths:

ApplicationPersonal Statement Character LimitActivities SectionMost Meaningful Activities
MD (AMCAS)5300 characters (including spaces)700 characters (including spaces)3 can be selected as a “most meaningful activity.” You’ll have an additional 1325 characters for these
DO (AACOMAS)5300 characters (including spaces)600 characters (including spaces)Not applicable

Differences Between DO and MD Applications

  • Course Classification: AMCAS is much more strict about what counts as a science course. AACOMAS will allow a much wider range of courses to be considered science courses, including classes like astronomy and geology. 
  • GPA Classification: AMCAS and AACOMAS calculate the GPA slightly differently. AMCAS includes all attempted coursework in its GPA calculations, while AACOMAS only includes courses taken for credit.
  • Fees: The fee for AMCAS is $175 (plus $45 for each additional school) and the fee for AACOMAS is $198 (plus $55 for each additional school).
  • Application Timelines: AMCAS and AACOMAS operate on slightly different timelines. AMCAS usually opens in early May and can be submitted in late May or early June. AACOMAS, on the other hand, usually opens in early May and can be submitted immediately.

Remember, both systems require a considerable amount of time and effort to complete, so it’s essential to start preparing early to ensure a timely and successful application.

MD vs DO Training Programs

Both allopathic and osteopathic medical students spend their first years of med school on classroom and laboratory coursework in subjects like biochemistry, anatomy, and biomedical ethics

They then spend the final two years in clinical rotations across various medical specialties such as pediatrics, family medicine, and internal medicine.

One main difference in the training DOs receive is the special focus on the musculoskeletal system. In DO programs, over 200 hours of instruction in osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) or osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) have to be completed. 

This unique approach equips osteopathic physicians with a more whole-body understanding of how an injury or illness in one part of the body can affect the rest. OMM/OMT have similarities to chiropractic adjustments, but they aren’t the same thing. 

USMLE vs. COMLEX Exams

To be a medical doctor, students of both programs will be assessed on their application of knowledge, concepts, and principles they’ve learned. They will also have to demonstrate their ability to provide effective patient care.

The licensure for MD and DO graduates differ. MD students take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This exam consists of 3 steps, with the third step taken after the first year of MD residency.

DO graduates are required to take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX). The COMLEX includes a section on OMM, reflecting the osteopathic emphasis on the musculoskeletal system and a whole-person approach to treatment.

Residency Similarities and Differences

Residency is a 3 to 7-year-long postgraduate training program that students take after getting their DO or MD degree. During this time, a resident had the opportunity to hone their skills for a particular specialty.

Both MD and DO graduates apply for residency programs through the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), often referred to as “The Match.”

Both DOs and MDs can practice in any specialty, but due to the holistic nature of osteopathy, osteopathic doctors are more often seen in primary care specialties and medical practices. 

According to the AAMC’s most recent Physician Specialty Data Report, 32% of MDs practice in primary care fields (including family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics). The AOA reports 57% of DOs practice in primary care

Background: In 2020, the AOA and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) completed a 5-year transition to a single accreditation system for all U.S. residency programs. Before this time, DO graduates had the opportunity to to match for residency spots via NMRP or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) Match.

This merger allows DO graduates to compete for the same residency spots as MD graduates, having one residency match, and further aligning the training paths of MDs and DOs.

We can help you match with the residency of your choice with comprehensive coaching.

How To Choose Between an MD and DO

Choosing whether an MD or DO path is right for you depends largely on your own personal philosophy about healthcare. 

Is a DO more prestigious than an MD? The prestige of an MD versus a DO is largely a matter of perspective. While some perceive the MD degree as more prestigious due to the longer history of allopathic medicine and its representation in specialized fields, both MDs and DOs are equally qualified to practice medicine in all 50 states.

Why choose a DO over an MD? If you align more with a holistic approach to medicine, a focus on preventive care, and a strong interest in the musculoskeletal system, a DO program might be a good fit for you.

If you’re drawn to a traditional approach to medicine that places a stronger emphasis on treating specific conditions and diseases, an MD program might be more suited to your interests.

What are the pros and cons of a DO vs MD?

The pros of a DO degree:

  • A holistic approach that can lead to more personalized and comprehensive patient care.
  • A preventive medicine focus that looks beyond the current ailment.
  • The special training in OMT and the ability to perform hands-on therapeutic manipulations.

The cons of a DO degree:

  • Less recognition and understanding by the general public when it comes to having DO instead of MD in your title. 
  • Fewer research opportunities compared to allopathic programs.
  • Residency placement bias when it comes to securing a competitive residency (this is beginning to change with the unified residency match).

The pros of an MD degree:

  • Patients recognize the MD designation.
  • MDs have historically been more likely to specialize in more competitive areas of medicine.
  • Research opportunities are easy to find because of the size and resources MD programs have to offer.

The cons of an MD degree:

Whether you choose to become an MD or a DO, the path will always involve a dedication to serving patients’ healthcare needs. Both allopathic and osteopathic physicians share the common goal of promoting health and healing, albeit through slightly different approaches. 

Ultimately, the choice between an MD and a DO depends on your personal philosophy, your career goals, and the type of doctor you aspire to become.

Our enrollment team can help you prepare your application for MD and DO med school.

Renee Marinelli, MD

Renee Marinelli, MD

Dr. Marinelli has practiced family medicine, served on the University of California Admissions Committee, and has helped hundreds of students get into medical school. She spearheads a team of physician advisors who guide MedSchoolCoach students.

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