The Key Differences Between DO and MD Programs

D.O. or M.D.? It's more than just two letters after your name. You can take two pathways into medical school in the U.S., and applicants often wonder what the difference is between D.O. and M.D. programs.

M.D. graduates (known as allopathic physicians), often have the same duties and responsibilities as D.O. physicians (known as osteopathic physicians). They might even compete for identical residencies and work side by side, but there are some important differences to note.

Education

While both M.D. and D.O. schools teach about health and the treatment of disease in four year programs, osteopathic schools often place an emphasis on the treatment of the patient as a whole. This is sometimes referred to as holistic medicine, as opposed to the tendency of allopathic physicians, who focus on various organ systems and diseases. D.O. practitioners also learn manual manipulation techniques and body alignment not usually taught by M.D. schools, which often doubt their impact on overall patient health.

Licensing

M.D. students take the USMLE. D.O. students take the COMLEX, an exam similar to the USMLE. However, D.O. students have the option of taking the USMLE in addition to the COMLEX if they so desire.

Residency

There are some residency programs, mostly in primary care, which have special slots designated for D.O. students. Other residencies allow both M.D. and D.O. students to participate in their match process, provided the students have USMLE scores, but it is commonly believed that many of these programs consider the M.D. applicant more competitive. Whether or not this is true depends on the program under consideration.

Can you apply to both programs at once?

Yes, but it might serve you well to choose one or the other when applying to medical school. Schools want to hear that you are dedicated to their philosophy of teaching. Applying to both programs might make you seem wishy-washy and desperate.

While these schools have separate application systems (AACOMAS and AMCAS), they may ask you on an interview where else you applied. You will be forced to explain why you could not commit to one pathway. This can be a very awkward conversation and the mere fact that you applied to both programs can make an interviewer less likely to mark you favorably for admission.

Consider which method of teaching you wish to study under, and commit to your choice.