Many people wonder what is different about doctors who have a Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and those who have a Medical Doctor (MD) degree. About 4 out of 5 medical students in the US are training to be MDs. However, osteopathic physicians (DOs) can be any kind of physician they want to be. Doctors can choose any specialty, prescribe medication, and perform surgery with either a DO or a MD.

Notably, highly competitive residencies (neurosurgery, spinal surgery, etc) are harder to get into for DOs. Osteopathic medical colleges often focus on training physicians to fulfill the desperate need of graduating more primary care physicians, but that is not a requirement. I have an acquaintance who went to A.T.Still University College of Osteopathic Medicine and is now completing his anesthesiology residency at a prestigious hospital in Pennsylvania; however, over half of DOs in America today are primary care physicians. Right now, America has approximately 63,000 fully licensed osteopathic physicians practicing the entire scope of modern medicine.

DOs take the COMLEX and MDs take the USMLE. There’s not much difference between the two tests, but 20% of the COMLEX covers Osteopathic Principles and Practice (this includes osteopathic manipulative medicine, a hands-on treatment for somatic dysfunction). Sometimes DOs will take both the COMLEX and the USMLE in order to score well and get into a competitive residency, but it’s not just board scores that will get a physician into a residency of his or her choice; it’s also letters of recommendation, planning and choosing rotation sites, and the medical student’s involvement that will get him or her a choice residency.

Osteopathic schools have lower GPA and MCAT scores, but they are not necessarily any easier than allopathic (MD) schools. Osteopathic schools put more emphasis on patient-centered, hands-on, holistic care – caring for the patient as a whole, really figuring out how they are doing, and being genuinely compassionate towards their needs, but they are still trained in everything their allopathic get trained in (pharmocology, physiology, systems, etc.). The main difference between the two degrees is that DOs are certified in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM). The curriculum varies little between osteopathic and allopathic schools. DOs take all the same coursework as MDs, plus an additional ~200 hours in musculoskeletal manipulation.

Being an MD gives one international recognition as a medical doctor. Some countries place restrictions on DOs as medical doctors. The number of DOs in the US is, however, rising. In 2010, the number of new MDs per 100,000 people fell from 7.5 to 5.6, while the number of new DOs per 100,000 rose from 0.4 to 0.8.

As far as grades go, average MCAT scores for students accepted to osteopathic schools are ~26 with a 3.5cGPA/3.4sGPA; average for allopathic is ~30 with a 3.7cGPA/3.6sGPA. (Check out the “College” tab to learn more about requirements for medical school admission.) A lot of people choose osteopathic schools because of their philosophy and love for people. Other people choose allopathic schools because of their name, success, and/or popularity. I would choose the school that fits best to you, your mission and values.